MEPS 162:215-225 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps162215

Different early post-settlement strategies between American lobsters Homarus americanus and rock crabs Cancer irroratus in the Gulf of Maine

Alvaro T. Palma1,*, Richard A. Wahle2, Robert S. Steneck1

1Ira C. Darling Marine Center, University of Maine, Walpole, Maine 04573, USA
2Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, West Boothbay Harbor, Maine 04575, USA

The abundance of many invertebrates with planktonic larval stages can be determined shortly after they reach the benthos. In this study, we quantified patterns of abundance and habitat utilization of early benthic phases of the American lobster Homarus americanus and the rock crab Cancer irroratus. These 2 decapods are among the most common and abundant macroinvertebrates in coastal zones of the Gulf of Maine, with similar densities of larger individuals. Settlement and early post-settlement survival indicate that lobsters are highly substrate-specific early in life, settling predominantly in cobble beds. Crabs appear to be less selective, settling both in cobble and sand. Cumulative settlement of crabs, inferred from weekly censuses over the summer, was an order of magnitude greater than that of lobsters over the same time period. However, only crabs showed significant post-settlement losses. Although the identity of specific predators is unknown, predator exclusion experiments and placement of vacant uninhabited nursery habitat suggested that post-settlement mortality rather than emigration was responsible for these losses. The selective habitat-seeking behavior and lower post-settlement mortality of lobsters is consistent with their lower fecundity and later onset of reproductive maturity. The patterns observed for crabs, however, suggest a different strategy which is more in accordance with their higher fecundity and earlier onset of maturity. It is possible that lower fecundity but greater per-egg investment, along with strict habitat selection at settlement and lower post-settlement mortality, allows adult lobster populations to equal adult populations of crabs. This occurs despite crabs being more fecund and less habitat-selective settlers but sustaining higher post-settlement mortality.


Settlement · Early post-settlement · Predation · Mortality · Survivorship · Substrate type · Cancer irroratus · Homarus americanus


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