Balancing Risk and Reward: Mating Opportunity Influences Thermal Refuge Use In Fiddler Crabs

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Ocean Science and Engineering


Behavioural thermoregulation can ameliorate thermal stress but is costly. For species that court in a thermally stressful microhabitat, sexual selection via endurance rivalry favours individuals that are able and willing to endure harsh conditions in the courtship habitat, as retreats to a thermal refuge will reduce mating opportunities. The relative costs and benefits of refuge use versus continued courtship in the face of thermal risk, which vary across abiotic and biotic contexts, determine the optimal behavioural strategy. We examined the social and abiotic factors driving behavioural decisions related to thermoregulatory retreat in the fiddler crab Austruca mjoebergi. Male fiddler crabs perform a courtship display on the thermally stressful intertidal sediment surface. Time on the surface, and thus time available for display, was limited by high temperatures; as temperature increased, surface time decreased. Yet when presented with a stimulus female, males were more likely to perform the courtship display, displayed at a higher rate and increased time spent on the surface. These results demonstrate that behavioural decisions related to thermal retreat depend both on the abiotic conditions that influence the degree of thermal stress and on the social conditions that influence the reproductive prospects of the individual.

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Animal Behaviour



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