MEPS 186:227-238 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps186227

Ontogenetic changes in habitat use by postlarvae and young juveniles of the blue crab

Renee A. Pardieck, Robert J. Orth*, Robert J. Diaz, Romuald N. Lipcius

The College of William and Mary, School of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
*Addressee for correspondence. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Changing habitat requirements are evident during the developmental cycles of many species. In this field investigation, we attempted to distinguish between depth (shallow vs deep), habitat structure (seagrass species), and study site as factors influencing the distribution and abundance of postlarvae and juvenile blue crabs Callinectes sapidus in the Chesapeake Bay. Deep (>= 70 cm mean low water [MLW]) and shallow (<= 50 cm MLW) suction samples in monospecific Zostera marina and Ruppia maritima beds were taken in the York River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Our studies revealed ontogenetic changes in habitat use, which suggested that blue crabs are influenced differently by physical and biological factors even during the earliest life stages. Postlarvae through 3rd instar distributions were not related to seagrass species, but their densities increased with distance upriver (regression, p < 0.004, n = 36 to 38, postlarvae: r2 = 0.173, 1st instars: r2 = 0.308, 2nd-3rd instars: r2 = 0.231). This suggests that the smallest instar distributions are related to larval supply and physical forces, such as currents and winds, which determine water-column transport. In contrast, 4th and greater instars were significantly more abundant in Ruppia than in Zostera (ANOVA, df = 1, p < 0.05), possibly because of the high shoot density of Ruppia beds. Habitat use by 4th and greater instars may be related to seasonal changes in seagrass shoot density. Water depth did not influence the distribution of any crab stage. We suggest that habitat selection and differential mortality among habitats influence larger instar distributions more strongly than they influence the distribution of postlarvae and the earliest instars of C. sapidus.

KEY WORDS: Blue crabs · Callinectes sapidus · Ontogenetic changes · Habitat structure · Habitat use · Settlement · Recruitment · Shallow-water refuge · Seagrass beds

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