Geographic Variation in Camouflage Specialization by a Decorator Crab
Stachowicz, John J.
Hay, Mark E.
MetadataShow full item record
In North Carolina, the decorator crab Libinia dubia camouflages almost exclusively with the chemically noxious alga Dictyota menstrualis. By placing this alga on its carapace, the crab behaviorally sequesters the defensive chemicals of the plant and gains protection from omnivorous consumers. However, Dictyota is absent north of North Carolina, whereas Libinia occurs as far north as New England. Crabs from three northern locations where Dictyota is absent (Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey) camouflaged to match their environment, rather than selectively accumulating any one species. When D. menstrualis was offered to crabs from northern sites, they did not distinguish between it and other seaweeds for camouflage, whereas crabs from Alabama and two locations in North Carolina used D. menstrualis almost exclusively. In addition, in winter and spring, when Dictyota was seasonally absent in North Carolina, Libinia selectively camouflaged with the sun sponge Hymeniacidon heliophila, which was chemically unpalatable to local fishes. Thus, southern crabs were consistent specialists on chemically defended species for camouflage, while northern crabs were more generalized. The geographic shift in crab behavior away from specialization coincides with a reported decrease in both total predation pressure and the frequency of omnivorous consumers. These shifts in the nature and intensity of predation pressure may favor different camouflage strategies (generalist vs. specialist), contributing to the observed geographic differences in camouflage behavior.