The Evolutionary Ecology of European Green Crab, Carcinus maenas, in North America

  • Timothy C. Edgell
  • Johan Hollander
Part of the Invading Nature - Springer Series in Invasion Ecology book series (INNA, volume 6)


Biological invasions offer fertile grounds for studying evolutionary ecology because species’ contact histories are uncharacteristically well-defined. As a result, invasions can be used to gain glimpses of the earliest micro-evolutionary responses of natural populations to new species’ interactions by studying changes in behaviour, physiology or morphology in space and time. Here, the known history of range expansion by the European green crab Carcinus maenas in North America is used to illustrate factors affecting invasion success and the resilience of native American prey.

We situate our discussion in the bourgeoning field of adaptive phenotypic plasticity. Phenotypic plasticity is the phenomenon where an individual’s genotype interacts with its environment to produce better-fit behaviour, physiology, morphology, or life-history. Plasticity is considered adaptive when the environmentally-induced phenotype increases an individual’s fitness.

Below, theory about phenotypic plasticity is reviewed as to why it may benefit invasive species in general and specifically Carcinus maenas. The plasticity-invasion hypothesis (i.e., biological invaders benefit from high levels of phenotypic plasticity) is then tested directly by comparing known levels in C. maenas and other invaders to plasticity in a diversity of non-invasive, marine invertebrates. This study also analyses whether phenotypic plasticity has helped North American prey species defend against escalated bouts of predation caused by the C. maenas invasion, and elucidates the role plasticity plays in an apparent case of predator-prey coevolution between C. maenas and at least one species of native gastropod, Littorina obtusata. Finally, knowledge gaps in the case studies presented are discussed along with suggestions for future research aimed at gaining a better appreciation for how plasticity guides phenotypic evolution after a biological invasion.


Invasive Species Phenotypic Plasticity Reaction Norm Marine Invertebrate Invasion Success 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thanks to Lena Svensson for searching the scientific literature for the meta-analysis and Dean C. Adams for statistical advice. Thanks also to Bella Galil, Paul Clark, and two anonymous referees for constructive feedback on the manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LGL Limited environmental research associatesSidneyCanada
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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