Marine Biology

, Volume 151, Issue 6, pp 2037–2051 | Cite as

Circatidal swimming behavior of brachyuran crab zoea larvae: implications for ebb-tide transport

  • Paola C. López-DuarteEmail author
  • Richard A. Tankersley
Research Article


Larvae of the blue crab Callinectes sapidus and fiddler crab Uca pugilator are exported from estuaries and develop on the continental shelf. Previous studies have shown that the zoea-1 larvae of some crab species use selective tidal-stream transport (STST) to migrate from estuaries to coastal areas. The STST behavior of newly hatched larvae is characterized by upward vertical migration during ebb tide followed by a descent toward the bottom during flood. The objectives of the study were (1) to determine if newly hatched zoeae of U. pugilator and C. sapidus possess endogenous tidal rhythms in vertical migration that could underlie STST, (2) to determine if the rhythms persist in the absence of estuarine chemical cues, and (3) to characterize the photoresponses of zoeae to assess the impact of light on swimming behavior and vertical distribution. Ovigerous crabs with late-stage embryos were collected from June to August 2002 and maintained under constant laboratory conditions. Following hatching, swimming activity of zoeae was monitored in darkness for 72 h. U. pugilator zoeae displayed a circatidal rhythm in swimming with peaks in activity occurring near the expected times of ebb currents in the field. Conversely, C. sapidus zoeae exhibited no clear rhythmic migration patterns. When placed in a light field that simulated the underwater angular light distribution, C. sapidus larvae displayed a weak positive phototaxis at the highest light levels tested, while U. pugilator zoeae were unresponsive. Swimming behaviors and photoresponses of both species were not significantly influenced by the presence of chemical cues associated with offshore or estuarine water. These results are consistent with predictions based on species-specific differences in spawning and the proximity of hatching areas to the mouths of estuaries. U. pugilator larvae are released within estuaries near the adult habitat. Thus, ebb-phased STST behavior by zoeae is adaptive since it enhances export. Selective pressures for a tidal migration in C. sapidus larvae are likely weaker than for U. pugilator since ovigerous females migrate seaward prior to spawning and hatching occurs near inlets and in coastal waters.


Vertical Migration Blue Crab Fiddler Crab Positive Phototaxis Maximum Entropy Spectral Analysis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (OCE 9901146/0096205 and OCE 0094930). We are grateful to K. Butler, P. Gravinese, and P. Pochelon for their help with the collection and maintenance of crabs and Dr. J. Cohen for his assistance with the phototaxis experiments. Dr. R. B. Forward, Jr. (Duke University Marine Laboratory) graciously provided laboratory space and technical support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paola C. López-Duarte
    • 1
    Email author
  • Richard A. Tankersley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida Institute of TechnologyMelbourneUSA

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