Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 605–619 | Cite as

Hard Clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) Evaluate Predation Risk Using Chemical Signals from Predators and Injured Conspecifics

  • Delbert L. Smee
  • Marc J. Weissburg


Hard clams, Mercenaria mercenaria, are sessile, filter-feeding organisms that are heavily preyed upon by blue crabs, which find their clam prey using chemical cues. Clams may evade blue crabs by reducing their pumping (feeding) behavior when a threat is perceived. The purpose of this study was to determine the type of signals that clams use to detect consumers. Clams decreased their pumping time in response to blue crabs and blue crab effluent, but not to crab shells, indicating that chemical signals and not mechanical cues mediated the response of clams to distant predators. Because predator diet can influence prey evaluation of predatory threats, we compared clam responses to blue crabs fed a steady diet of fish, clams, or that were starved prior to the experiment. In addition, we used injured clams as a stimulus because many organisms detect predators by sensing the odor of injured con- or heterospecifics. Clams reduced feeding in response to injured conspecifics and to blue crabs that had recently fed. Clams reacted similarly to fed crabs, regardless of their diet, but did not respond to starved blue crabs. Because blue crabs are generalist predators and the threat posed by these consumers is unrelated to the crab's diet, we should expect clam reactions to blue crabs to be independent of the crab's diet. The failure of clams to react to starved blue crabs likely increases their vulnerability to these consumers, but clam responses to injured conspecifics may constitute a strategy that allows animals to detect an imminent threat when signals emanating from blue crabs are not detectable.

Key Words

Blue crab chemical cue clam diet flume foraging predator avoidance predator–prey interaction risk evaluation 



The authors thank S. Smee, L. Smee, and J. Jackson for help in collecting animals in the field and M. Ferner for maintaining the SkIO flume. Funding for this project came from the NSF IGERT grant to the Georgia Institute of Technology and NSF grant OCE #0424673 to MJW.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BiologyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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