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Crabby commotions: visual not vibrational-orientated searching behaviours guide aggregation formation around key resources

Abstract

Incidental stimuli produced by animal aggregations may be utilised by conspecifics to locate key resources in areas, where resources are patchily distributed and temporally irregular. However, few studies have investigated the roles of vibrational stimuli in aggregation formation when compared to other stimuli such as visual and tactile. Experimental manipulations were undertaken with Coenobita compressus, a terrestrial hermit crab of the tropics, which is constantly forming and re-forming aggregations around highly contested shell resources in a beach landscape. The commotions of jostling crabs, which may be up to hundreds of crabs at a time, produce a number of different incidental sensory stimuli during formation. Aspects of these stimuli were simulated, visual and vibrational, using playbacks and models. The visual simulation attracted significantly more crabs than the vibrational treatment, with the crabs also staying for a significantly longer period of time. The vibration simulation also did not attract more crabs when compared to a control, but visitors spent significantly less time in vibration-exposed quadrats, indicating reception of the stimulus. Taken together these findings indicate that visual public information promoted social aggregation formation, whereas vibrational information alone was inadequate.

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Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to staff at Osa Conservation Field Station (Costa Rica), and to C. Doherty, E. Steele, L. Valdes and J. Krieger for company in the field. A special thanks to the Dartmouth Women in Science Programme (WISP) undergraduate students A. Morris and P. Bazylczyk for their video coding. Thanks to G. Clucas and to the Shoals Marine Laboratory 2018 interns for island fun. The reviewers are thanked for providing valuable feedback. This work was supported by Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH), and a Shoals Marine Laboratory (UNH and Cornell University, NH, NY) Scientist-in-Residence Fellowship awarded to the author.

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Correspondence to Louise Roberts.

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Roberts, L. Crabby commotions: visual not vibrational-orientated searching behaviours guide aggregation formation around key resources. J Ethol 39, 343–351 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-021-00710-5

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Keywords

  • Substrate-borne vibration
  • Aggregation
  • Public information
  • Coenobita compressus
  • Hermit crab
  • Visual information