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Differences in Prey Capture Behavior in Populations of Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun) from Contaminated and Clean Estuaries in New Jersey

Abstract

Populations living in contaminated environments may exhibit behavioral changes that can alter predator–prey interactions. Blue crabs from the contaminated Hackensack Meadowlands (HM) had reduced ability to capture juvenile blue crabs and adult mummichogs (both active prey) compared with crabs from a reference site (Tuckerton (TK)). However, they consumed equivalent amounts of ribbed mussels and fiddler crabs, which are less active prey. Crabs may have reduced coordination rather than appetite or motivation. The lab data are supported by stomach analysis of field-caught crabs. HM crab stomachs contained ∼60% algae, plant material, detritus, and sediment and much lower weights of crab, fish, and other live food than TK crabs. However, the relative absence of bivalves in their diet may reflect reduced amounts available. When TK crabs were caged in HM or fed food from HM in the lab for 8 weeks, their prey capture ability declined significantly, and mercury in their muscle tissue increased significantly, indicating that environmental factors were responsible for the behavioral differences. When HM crabs were caged in TK or fed fish from TK in the lab for 8 weeks, their prey capture ability improved significantly. Mercury levels were variable and did not show a significant decrease.

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Acknowledgments

This project was funded in part by a Rutgers University Marine Field Station Graduate Student Research award and a Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute (MERI) grant. We thank MERI Senior Naturalist B. Bragin, for providing assistance with trawling, Dr. P. Jivoff for providing green crab traps that were used for field-transplanted crabs, Dr. P. Weis for the use of laboratory facilities for Hg analysis, and T. Proctor for assistance with Hg analysis. We also thank Dr. L. Bergey, A. Candelmo, J. Lord, Dr. J. MacDonald, J. Ramirez, S. Shahrestani, and R. Weatherford for field and laboratory assistance. Finally, we thank the anonymous reviewers for the input they have provided, which greatly improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jessica M. Reichmuth.

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Reichmuth, J.M., Roudez, R., Glover, T. et al. Differences in Prey Capture Behavior in Populations of Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun) from Contaminated and Clean Estuaries in New Jersey. Estuaries and Coasts 32, 298–308 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-008-9130-z

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Keywords

  • Behavior
  • Blue crab
  • Callinectes sapidus
  • Pollution
  • Predation
  • Predator