, Volume 739, Issue 1, pp 145–153 | Cite as

Prey preferences in captivity of the freshwater crab Potamonautes lirrangensis from Lake Malawi with special emphasis on molluscivory

  • A. M. WeigandEmail author
  • The Volkswagen Foundation Lake Malawi Field School 2012 Consortium
  • M. Plath


Freshwater crabs play an important role for the diversification of shell morphologies in freshwater gastropods. For example, the radiation of the freshwater crab genus Platythelphusa in Lake Tanganyika is thought to have driven shell diversification of the lake’s snail fauna, promoting the evolution of thalassoid shells. No comparable thalassoid snails are known from Lake Malawi. Accordingly, it was hypothesized that the lake’s only freshwater crab, Potamonautes lirrangensis, is not a snail predator. We tested this hypothesis using feeding experiments with specimens caught in the southern part of Lake Malawi. Individual crabs were held in experimental containers offshore and were presented with various food items overnight, after which ingestion frequency was recorded. Potamonautes lirrangensis can be characterized as a scavenger that is opportunistically carnivorous. A preference for fish and snail flesh could be observed, indicating a bias toward carnivory. We observed occasional cracking of the shell in different snail species, with frequent ingestion of artificially crushed specimens, suggesting that crabs do attempt to feed on snails. However, the investigated Lake Malawi gastropods appear to be partly protected against crab predation through thick-walled and low-spired shells (especially Lanistes and Bellamya), obviating the evolution of thalassoid shells carrying rims, ridges, or spines.


Feeding ecology Molluscivory Co-evolution Arms race Adaptation 



Authorities of the Lake Malawi National Park and the University of Malawi have approved and coauthored this study. Following the ‘Malawi National Parks and Wildlife Act’, permission to conduct this research was obtained from the Wildlife Officer Mr. Bryson Banda of the ‘Lake Malawi National Park’ site (paragraph 39). We acknowledge financial support for the present study by the Volkswagen Foundation in the frame of the field school “Evolution of Lake Malawi Biodiversity” (AZ 86 253). The field school ‘Evolution of Lake Malawi Biodiversity’ was dedicated to the investigation and understanding of aspects of evolutionary biology presented in hands-on experiments at the Mbuna Research Station in Cape Maclear. All participants of the field school were actively and passionately involved in the data collection process. We thank the local people from Chembe for their support during all phases of the experiment and two anonymous reviewers, and Thomas von Rintelen (editor) for their constructive and helpful comments.

The Members of Volkswagen Foundation Lake Malawi Field School 2012 Consortium

A. M. Weigand, M. Plath, A. Klussmann-Kolb, H. Schweyen (Institute for Ecology, Evolution & Diversity, J.W.-Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany), J. J. Agaba, A. Kyakuwa, C. U. Tolo (Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Mbarara University of Science & Technology, Uganda), C. Albrecht, C. Clewing (Department of Animal Ecology and Systematics, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany), A. Apio, J. D. Bariyanga, J. M. Mindje, D. Umutoni (Umutara Polytechnic, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Nyagatare, Rwanda), M. Babu (Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Islamic University in Uganda, Uganda), M. Bäuchle (Department of Paleoanthropology, Research Institute Senckenberg, Frankfurt am Main, Germany), B. Banda, (Lake Malawi National Park, Malawi), E. Bandason, B. C. Makina, D. F. Pemba (Biology Department, Chancellor College, University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi), M. Chipyola (Department of Environmental Affairs, Chancellor College, University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi), C. M. Githukia (Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Kegati Aquaculture Station, Kenya), J. K. Kochey, C. N. Lange, E. N. Linus (National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya), K. D. Makasi, M. M. Maombi, M. Malikwisha, O. W. Ndeo (Department of Environment, Faculty of Science, Ruwenzori State University U.O.R., DR Congo), A.-M. Oppold, A. Seeland (Department of Aquatic Ecotoxicology, J. W.-Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany), S. Schmid (Centre for Interdisciplinary African Studies (ZIAF), J. W.-Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany), R. Schultheiß (Division of Genetics and Physiology, Department of Biology, Pharmacity, 20014 University of Turku, Finland).

Supplementary material

10750_2013_1705_MOESM1_ESM.doc (138 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 139 kb)
10750_2013_1705_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (2.2 mb)
Fig. S1 Study organism and selected food items. a Potamonautes lirrangensis female dorsal view. b P. lirrangensis female ventral view. c P. lirrangensis male dorsal view. d P. lirrangensis male ventral view. e Eichhornia crassipes. f Ceratophyllum cf. demersum. g Coelatura sp. h Melanoides sp. i Lanistes solidus. j Lanistes nyassanus (PDF 2268 kb)
10750_2013_1705_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (803 kb)
Fig. S2 Handled food items and chela dentition. a Crack in the central part of the shell of Bellamya robertsoni. b Single cracked individual of Lanistes solidus. c Partially eaten Eichhornia crassipes. d Potamonautes lirrangensis chela with generalized dentition (PDF 803 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. M. Weigand
    • 1
    Email author
  • The Volkswagen Foundation Lake Malawi Field School 2012 Consortium
  • M. Plath
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Ecology, Evolution & DiversityJ.W.-Goethe University Frankfurt am MainFrankfurtGermany

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