Sediment selection: range-expanding fiddler crabs are better burrowers than their historic-range counterparts

TitleSediment selection: range-expanding fiddler crabs are better burrowers than their historic-range counterparts
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsWong R, Roy M, Byrnes J
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
ISSN0171-8630, 1616-1599

Climate change plays a large role in driving species range shifts; however, the physical characteristics of an environment can also influence and alter species distributions. In New England salt marshes, the mud fiddler crab Minuca pugnax is expanding its range north of Cape Cod, MA, into the Gulf of Maine (GoM) due to warming waters. The burrowing lifestyle of M. pugnax means sediment compaction in salt marshes may influence the ability of crabs to dig, with more compact soils being resistant to burrowing. Previous studies indicate that salt marshes along the GoM have a higher sediment compaction relative to marshes south of Cape Cod. Physical characteristics of this habitat may be influencing the burrowing performance of M. pugnax and therefore the continuation of their northward range expansion into the GoM. We conducted a controlled laboratory experiment to determine if compaction affects the burrowing activity of M. pugnax in historical and range-expanded populations. We manipulated sediment compaction in standardized lab assays and measured crab burrowing performance with individuals collected from Nantucket (NAN, i.e. historical range) and the Plum Island Estuary (PIE, i.e. expanded range). We determined compaction negatively affected burrowing ability in crabs from both sites; however, crabs from PIE have a higher probability of burrowing in higher sediment compactions than NAN crabs. In addition, PIE crabs were more likely to burrow overall. We conclude that site level differences in compaction are likely altering burrowing behavior in the crab’s expanded-range territory by way of local adaptation or phenotypic plasticity.

Citation Keywong_sediment_2021