, Volume 189, Issue 3, pp 815–828 | Cite as

Dazed, confused, and then hungry: pesticides alter predator–prey interactions of estuarine organisms

  • K. Schroeder-SpainEmail author
  • Delbert L. Smee
Community ecology – original research


Like predators, contaminant stressors such as pesticides may have large and interacting effects on natural communities by removing species or altering behaviors and species interactions. Yet, few studies in estuarine systems have evaluated the effects of a single, low-dose exposure to pesticides on key predators. Here, we investigated the effects of a common pyrethroid (resmethrin) + synergist (piperonyl butoxide; PBO) mixture used for mosquito abatement on two life stages (adult and juvenile) of an important invertebrate estuarine predator, prey, and fishery species: the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus). The effects of resmethrin with PBO (Res–PBO) were assessed using behavioral and mesocosm experiments to link effects on individuals with changes in predator–prey interactions: (1) In static non-renewal exposures, crabs exposed to 1:3, 10:30, or 100:300 µg l−1 Res–PBO or PBO-alone had increased mortality and reduced locomotor ability within 1–12 h, with higher effects in adults than juveniles. (2) In mesocosms, sublethal exposure to 1:3 µg l−1 Res–PBO altered abult and juvnile foraging ability by  lowering the ability of adult crabs to cannibalize juvenile crabs but increasing juvenile crab foraging rates. Juvenile crabs were also more vulnerable to predation following pesticide exposure. Thus, a single, sublethal exposure to low, environmentally occurring pesticide concentrations reduced blue crab survivorship and locomotor functioning, and altered predator–prey interactions by changing foraging rates and increasing vulnerability to predators. Pesticide stressors may therefore play an important but underestimated role in shaping coastal ecosystems in which invertebrate predators are important and may contribute to U.S. blue crab population declines.


Insecticide Pyrethroid PBO Blue crab Ecotoxicology 



Thanks to Lisa L. Fisher (2012–2013) and Kelly Correia (2014) for their invaluable support and assistance with animal collections, conducting experiments, and data collection. Thank you, to the many undergraduate research assistants (listed in order of contribution): Casey Rodriguez (Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Scholars Program 2012), Paige Oboikovitz (REU intern 2013), Sarah Wallace, Erin O’Brien, Bethany Wallace, and Erin Erben. Additional thanks to ETEAMS summer interns. Funding for this project was provided by a Texas A&M—Corpus Christi Faculty Enhancement Grant to D.L. Smee, NSF-MSP ETEAMS grant (#1321319), and by NSF-REU grant (DBI-1004903). Last, thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback and comments.

Author contribution statement

KSS was a doctoral student mentored by DLS. KSS and DLS conceived and designed the experiments, KSS performed the experiments, and KSS and DLS analyzed the data and wrote the paper.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4361_MOESM1_ESM.docx (217 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (docx 216 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (wmv 60881 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Texas A&M University Corpus ChristiCorpus ChristiUSA
  2. 2.Dauphin Island Sea LabDauphin IslandUSA
  3. 3.Department of Marine ScienceUniversity of South AlabamaMobileUSA

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