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Reproductive risk: high mortality associated with spawning by horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) in Delaware Bay, USA

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Abstract

It has been presumed that intertidal spawning by Limulus polyphemus minimizes the loss of egges to subtidal predators; however, this strategy involves considerable risks. Massive beach strandings of adults accompany seasonal spawning migrations of crabs along Cape May in Delaware Bay, (USA). At least 190000 horseshoe crabs, approximating 10% of the adult population, died from beach stranding along the New Jersey shore of Delaware Bay during the 1986 (May to June) spawning season. Abnormalities of the telson (which is used in righting behavior) were significantly more common among stranded crabs than among individuals actively spawning on the intertidal beach. The number of stranded crabs per day was not correlated with tidal height or environmental variables (wind speed, wave height) which characterized the conditions at spawning. A complex suite of factors, including the size of the available spawning population, tidal and weather conditions, and beach slope, influence the number stranded during the breeding season. Horseshoe crab stranding results in a large loss of gravid females from the population, and may represent a major input of organic matter to intertidal sandy beaches in certain regions of Delaware Bay.

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Communicated by J. Grassle, Woods Hole

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Botton, M.L., Loveland, R.E. Reproductive risk: high mortality associated with spawning by horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) in Delaware Bay, USA. Mar. Biol. 101, 143–151 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00391453

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