Larval behavior and dispersal mechanisms in shore crab larvae (Carcinus maenas): Local adaptations to different tidal environments?

Per-Olav Moksnes, Hanna Corell, Kentaroo Tryman, Robinson Hordoir and Per R. Jonsson

Limnol. Oceanogr., 59(2), 2014, 588-602 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2014.59.2.0588

ABSTRACT: Using a combination of empirical and model studies we tested whether European shore crab larvae (Carcinus maenas) from environments with different tidal regimes in the North Sea area have different swimming behaviors, and whether this affects connectivity and settlement success of larvae. Laboratory studies demonstrated the presence of an inherited tidal migration rhythm in newly hatched crab larvae from the mesotidal Danish Wadden Sea, and field studies showed that postlarvae swam in surface water almost exclusively during flood tides, suggesting that larvae use selective tidal stream transport to control the dispersal process. In contrast, shore crab larvae from microtidal Skagerrak displayed a nocturnal vertical migration behavior that appeared to switch to a diurnal behavior at the end of the postlarval phase, indicating an adaptation to avoid visual predators and to use wind-driven transport to reach shallow settlement areas. A biophysical model showed that tidal-migrating larvae in the Wadden Sea had two times higher settlement success than larvae with a diel behavior. However, no differences in settlement success were found between the two larval behaviors in microtidal Skagerrak, where lower fitness is suggested for tidal-migrating larvae due to higher predation mortality from visual predators. We suggest that the differences in inherited larval behavior in larvae from meso- and microtidal regions reflect local adaptations maintained through natural selection of successful recruits. Consistent with recent population genetic studies, modeled connectivity of shore crabs indicated an oceanographic dispersal barrier to gene flow in Eastern Wadden Sea that may facilitate such adaptations.

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