MEPS 493:155-163 (2013)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10525

Determinants of the onset and strength of mutualistic interactions between branching corals and associate crabs

Hannah L. Stewart1,3,*, Nichole N. Price2,4, Sally J. Holbrook1,2, Russell J. Schmitt1,2, Andrew J. Brooks1

1Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93101, USA
2Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA
3Present address: West Vancouver Laboratory, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, West Vancouver, British Columbia V7V 1N6, Canada
4Present address:
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California 92093, USA

ABSTRACT: In mutualisms involving a host and symbiotic resident, the nature and strength of their interactions are unlikely to be constant over time or space. The efficacy of such mutualisms can be crucial to the population dynamics of one or both partners, particularly where survival bottlenecks occur at early life stages. In laboratory and field outplant experiments, we explored determinants of the onset of mutualistic interactions between early stages of branching corals and their trapeziid crab partners. We confirmed that recently settled crabs are capable of providing housekeeping services to their young coral partners (as has been reported for older crabs and corals), and the presence of a crab in areas of high sedimentation conferred growth benefits ~3 times as strong compared with low sediment conditions. We also showed that recruitment of post-larval crabs to very young corals increases with morphological complexity of the coral, which relates to the ability of the host to provide micro-refugia for its crab symbiont, and indicates the potential for selective pressure for traits that attract and retain crabs during this high-mortality bottleneck life stage. These findings provide insight into the recruitment process and ontogenetic constraints that influence the onset of mutualistic interactions between corals and their associated symbionts.


KEY WORDS: Mutualism · Interaction strength · Crabs · Symbiosis · Coral morphology · Sediment · Ontogeny · Habitat selection


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Cite this article as: Stewart HL, Price NN, Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ, Brooks AJ (2013) Determinants of the onset and strength of mutualistic interactions between branching corals and associate crabs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 493:155-163. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10525

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