skip to main content


Title: JUVENILE BLUE CRAB (CALLINECTES SAPIDUS) SURVIVAL IN SIMULATED SEAGRASS HABITATS (ZOSTERA MARINA AND RUPPIA MARITIMA)
Anthropogenic increases in global temperatures and nutrient loads are expected to reduce juvenile blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) survival in the Chesapeake Bay. These factors change habitat composition which can affect juvenile invertebrates and fishes that are dependent on these habitats. Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is declining due to rising water temperatures and increased nutrient loading, while widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) can tolerate higher temperatures. An indoor mesocosm experiment was designed to test the suitability of Zostera and Ruppia as protective nursery habitats compared to sand. Artificial seagrass plots were placed in flow-through tanks. Juvenile blue crabs were tethered, and adult blue crabs and striped burrfish were introduced as predators in order to estimate juvenile crab survival in different substrates. Survival analysis revealed that Zostera provides more protection for juvenile crabs than sand. There was no significant difference between Ruppia and sand, and between Zostera and Ruppia in providing juvenile protection. This suggests juvenile survival may decrease in the future with Zostera loss and that stricter restrictions on the blue crab fishery in the Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic region would be required to maintain healthy crab populations.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1062882
NSF-PAR ID:
10051369
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Honor's Thesis: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado at Boulder
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. How ocean acidification (OA) interacts with other stressors is understudied, particularly for predators and prey. We assessed long-term exposure to decreased pH and low salinity on (1) juvenile blue crab Callinectes sapidus claw pinch force, (2) juvenile hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria survival, growth, and shell structure, and (3) blue crab and hard clam interactions in filmed mesocosm trials. In 2018 and 2019, we held crabs and clams from the Chesapeake Bay, USA, in crossed pH (low: 7.0, high: 8.0) and salinity (low: 15, high: 30) treatments for 11 and 10 wk, respectively. Afterwards, we assessed crab claw pinch force and clam survival, growth, shell structure, and ridge rugosity. Claw pinch force increased with size in both years but weakened in low pH. Clam growth was negative, indicative of shell dissolution, in low pH in both years compared to the control. Growth was also negative in the 2019 high-pH/low-salinity treatment. Clam survival in both years was lowest in the low-pH/low-salinity treatment and highest in the high-pH/high-salinity treatment. Shell damage and ridge rugosity (indicative of deterioration) were intensified under low pH and negatively correlated with clam survival. Overall, clams were more severely affected by both stressors than crabs. In the filmed predator-prey interactions, pH did not substantially alter crab behavior, but crabs spent more time eating and burying in high-salinity treatments and more time moving in low-salinity treatments. Given the complex effects of pH and salinity on blue crabs and hard clams, projections about climate change on predator-prey interactions will be difficult and must consider multiple stressors. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    The effect of individual and population-level egg mortality is important to quantify to maintain sustainable crustacean fisheries. The nemertean worm Carcinonemertes carcinophila (Kölliker, 1845) is an egg predator of the Atlantic blue crab, Callinectes sapidusRathbun, 1896; however, little is known about the impact this nemertean has on the reproduction of the blue crab. We assessed the prevalence and intensity of the infestation of nemerteans in ovigerous blue crabs using a fishery-independent trawl survey. During the primary spawning period of the crab, May–September 2022, 126 ovigerous females were collected and analyzed for worms. Prevalence over this time was 66.6% and mean brood infestation was 53.9 worms per infested crab host. Nemertean egg consumption was quantified with a six-day microcosm experiment. Of the 48 worms in the experiment, 71% actively fed on crab eggs and their consumption ranged 0.16–4.5 eggs day–1. Consumption rates were used to estimate population-level impact of nemertean feeding on crab brood mortality. Modeled proportions of brood loss per crab ranged 0–0.0044%. At the current prevalence and intensity of infestation, egg consumption by nemerteans has a negligible effect on blue crab reproductive output and batch fecundity in Chesapeake Bay. We also investigated the use of mature nemertean worms as a biomarker for establishing the spawning history of ovigerous female blue crabs and determined that the presence of worms in the clutch and in the gills can be used to indicate parity in ovigerous female crabs.

     
    more » « less
  3. Blue crabs Callinectes sapidus have expanded their geographic range northward in the NW Atlantic with possible trophodynamic effects on benthic communities. In this study, we examined the blue crab’s diet in 2 southern New England tidal rivers (USA) and expounded on their predator-prey interaction with juvenile winter flounder Pseudopleuronectes americanus . Blue crabs (8-185 mm carapace width [CW]; n = 1835) were collected from the Seekonk River, Rhode Island, and Taunton River, Massachusetts, between May and August 2012 to 2016, and their feeding habits were assessed via stomach content, stable isotope, and molecular genetic analyses. Blue crabs were found to be generalist carnivores-omnivores with diets varying throughout ontogeny, yet shifts in prey composition had no effect on size-based nitrogen isotope signatures and trophic position (3.50 ± 0.35, mean ± SD). Carbon isotope values indicated that detritus-macroalgae were the dominant carbon source to the food web, with additional contributions from terrestrially derived organic matter and phytoplankton in oligohaline and polyhaline waters, respectively. The main prey of blue crabs ≤49 mm CW were amphipods, shrimp, and unidentified crustaceans, and larger conspecifics fed on bivalves, crabs, and fish. Winter flounder remains, e.g. sagittal otoliths, were identified in the diet of 2.5% of field-collected blue crabs, whereas PCR-based assays detected winter flounder DNA in 17.7% of crab stomachs. Blue crabs 23 to 160 mm CW preyed on winter flounder ranging from 26 to 66 mm total length, with occurrences of predation most closely associated with increases in crab size. Blue crab predation on winter flounder also varied spatially in the rivers, reflecting site-specific differences in flounder densities, abundances of other preferred prey, and dissolved oxygen concentrations that altered predator-prey dynamics. Lastly, the current predatory impact of blue crabs on juvenile winter flounder is nearly equivalent to other portunid crab species. Anticipated temperature-mediated increases in blue crab densities at northern latitudes, however, will intensify the predator-induced mortality of winter flounder and likely hinder their recovery in southern New England. 
    more » « less
  4. Predator–prey interactions are a key feature of ecosystems and often chemically mediated, whereby individuals detect molecules in their environment that inform whether they should attack or defend. These molecules are largely unidentified, and their discovery is important for determining their ecological role in complex trophic systems. Homarine and trigonelline are two previously identified blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) urinary metabolites that cause mud crabs (Panopeus herbstii) to seek refuge, but it was unknown whether these molecules influence other species within this oyster reef system. In the current study, homarine, trigonelline, and blue crab urine were tested on juvenile oysters (Crassostrea virginica) to ascertain if the same molecules known to alter mud crab behavior also affect juvenile oyster morphology, thus mediating interactions between a generalist predator, a mesopredator, and a basal prey species. Oyster juveniles strengthened their shells in response to blue crab urine and when exposed to homarine and trigonelline in combination, especially at higher concentrations. This study builds upon previous work to pinpoint specific molecules from a generalist predator’s urine that induce defensive responses in two marine prey from different taxa and trophic levels, supporting the hypothesis that common fear molecules exist in ecological systems. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Coastal habitats are experiencing decreases in seawater pH and increases in temperature due to anthropogenic climate change. The Caribbean king crab,Maguimithrax spinosissimus, plays a vital role on Western Atlantic reefs by grazing macroalgae that competes for space with coral recruits. Therefore, identifying its tolerance to anthropogenic stressors is critically needed if this species is to be considered as a potential restoration management strategy in coral reef environments. We examined the effects of temperature (control: 28 °C and elevated: 31 °C) and pH (control: 8.0 and reduced pH: 7.7) on the king crab’s larval and early juvenile survival, molt-stage duration, and morphology in a fully crossed laboratory experiment. Survival to the megalopal stage was reduced (13.5% lower) in the combined reduced pH and elevated temperature treatment relative to the control. First-stage (J1) juveniles delayed molting by 1.5 days in the reduced pH treatment, while second-stage (J2) crabs molted 3 days earlier when exposed to elevated temperature. Juvenile morphology did not differ among treatments. These results suggests that juvenile king crabs are tolerant to changes associated with climate change. Given the important role of the king crab as a grazer of macroalgae, its tolerance to climate stressors suggests that it could benefit restoration efforts aimed at making coral reefs more resilient to increasingly warm and acidic oceans into the future.

     
    more » « less