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Fighting behavior in hermit crabs: the combined effect of resource-holding potential and resource value in Pagurus longicarpus

Abstract

A study was conducted to determine whether asymmetries in both resource-holding potential (RHP) and resource value (RV) influence dominance and fighting behavior in the hermit crab Pagurus longicarpus. A total of 120 groups of three crabs were observed for 10 min in four experiments that tested all diverse combinations of equal/different RHP (i.e. ‘body size’) and equal/different RV (i.e. ‘shell size’ and ‘shell quality’). In a fifth experiment, dominant and subordinate individuals of the same size category (26 groups) were forced to enter shells of opposite quality than those previously occupied, and then the behavior of the reconstituted original groups was observed for additional 10 min. As expected, crabs in lower quality shells were more willing to initiate and to escalate fights. However, their attacks were directed to any crab of the group, independently of the defender's shell quality, and the fight duration did not vary with the different value of the resources at stake. This may indicate that P. longicarpus is unable to assess the quality of the shells available in its social environment but bases its tactical decisions during fights solely on its own resource. This suggestion was confirmed by the change in the fighting behavior of crabs whose shell quality was experimentally altered. This manipulation induced an overall increase in the intensity of aggression, drastic modification of crab behavior, and inversion of the hierarchy even though these crabs have had previous experiences of wins/losses and were familiar to the other members of the group. In this species, large crab size and/or the occupancy of adequate (and oversized) shells appeared to be the most likely determinant of contest resolution. Individuals seemed to retain a memory of the previously held resource and behaved accordingly.

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Acknowledgements

The study was made possible by MBL Associates, Ann E. Kammer Memorial Fellowship Fund, H. Keffer Hartline Fellowship Fund, Frank R. Lillie Fund, and the Plum Foundation. The author thanks two anonymous referees for their valuable comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Francesca Gherardi.

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Communicated by P. Backwell

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Gherardi, F. Fighting behavior in hermit crabs: the combined effect of resource-holding potential and resource value in Pagurus longicarpus . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59, 500–510 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-005-0074-z

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Keywords

  • Resource value
  • Fighting behavior
  • Dominance
  • Hermit crabs
  • Pagurus longicarpus