Marine Biology

, 165:26 | Cite as

Geographic variation in thermal tolerance and morphology in a fiddler crab sister-species pair

  • M. Zachary DarnellEmail author
  • Kelly M. Darnell
Original paper


Temperature-adaptive physiological and morphological variation plays a large role in determining species’ geographic ranges and responses to climate change. We examined critical thermal maximum (CTmax) and two thermally relevant morphological traits across multiple populations of two species of fiddler crabs, Leptuca panacea and Leptuca pugilator, spanning a latitudinal thermal gradient from South Padre Island, Texas (26.0850°N) to Long Island, New York (40.9357°N). CTmax was measured on crabs collected in 2015, while morphology was measured on crabs collected between 2012 and 2015. CTmax differed among populations and was greatest in populations experiencing a warmer thermal regime. CTmax did not differ between the two species at the site where they overlapped and experienced identical thermal regimes. These results indicate that large-scale (latitudinal) thermal gradients can shape thermally relevant physiological characteristics. Geographic patterns of the two morphological measurements (carapace width and relative claw length) were not consistent between the two species, and often ran counter to our expectations. Thermoregulatory ability is optimized by large body size and a large claw, and we thus hypothesized that carapace width and claw length would be positively correlated with environmental temperature. Carapace width exhibited a positive relationship with environmental temperature in L. panacea, but conversely exhibited a negative relationship in L. pugilator. Claw length was negatively correlated with temperature in both species. These morphological results highlight the need to consider the multiple, presumed interacting selective pressures shaping morphological variation among populations and species.



The authors thank J. Levinton for providing lab space, assisting with fiddler crab collections in New York, and for providing valuable feedback on this manuscript; P. Munguia for providing lab space in Texas; and S. Hicks, S. Bergeron, and S. Rehage for technical assistance. This study benefited from early discussions with R.S. Greenberg on temperature-driven variation in fiddler crab claw size and sparrow bill size. Partial funding for this research was provided by the Nicholls State University Research Council.

Compliance with ethical standards

Human/animal rights statement

All animals used in the study were collected, treated, and handled following established protocols. As only invertebrates were used in experiments, IACUC approvals were not required.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

227_2017_3282_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (90 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 90 kb)
227_2017_3282_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (85 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 85 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Coastal Sciences, School of Ocean Science and TechnologyThe University of Southern MississippiOcean SpringsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesNicholls State UniversityThibodauxUSA
  3. 3.The Water Institute of the GulfBaton RougeUSA
  4. 4.Division of Coastal Sciences, School of Ocean Science and TechnologyThe University of Southern MississippiOcean SpringsUSA

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