MEPS 518:193-208 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11042

Oceanographic and demographic mechanisms affecting population structure of snow crabs in the northern Bering Sea

Jason M. Kolts1,5,*, James R. Lovvorn2, Christopher A. North3, Markus A. Janout4,6 

1Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA
2Department of Zoology and Center for Ecology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois 62901, USA
3Department of Zoology and Physiology and Program in Ecology, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA
4School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Institute of Marine Science, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
5Present address: Department of Biology, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Campus Box 53, PO Box 173362, Denver, Colorado 80217, USA
6Present address: Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Climate Sciences/Observational Oceanography, Postfach 120161, 27515 Bremerhaven, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Snow crabs Chionoecetes opilio are quite productive at suitable temperatures, but can also be abundant in water cold enough to depress settlement of larvae, growth, and reproduction. In much of the northern Bering Sea, bottom water temperatures are below -1°C for most or all of the year. Crab pelagic larvae prefer to settle at temperatures above 0°C, so we found high densities of juveniles only where intruding warm currents deposited larvae in localized areas. After settlement, maturing crabs appeared to exhibit ontogenetic migration toward deeper, warmer water. Cold temperatures excluded key predators, but decreased fecundity by restricting females to small body size (with associated small clutches) and to breeding every 2 yr. Migration to warmer water may allow females to breed annually and to encounter more adult males needed to fertilize subsequent clutches. Because older males also emigrate, remaining adolescent males probably inseminate newly maturing females. Without localized intrusion of warmer currents, snow crabs might not persist at high densities in such cold waters. However, they are currently very abundant, and export many pelagic larvae and adults.


KEY WORDS: Population structure · Larval advection · Larval settlement · Ontogenetic migration · Dispersion · Reproduction · Chionoecetes opilio


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Cite this article as: Kolts JM, Lovvorn JR, North CA, Janout MA (2015) Oceanographic and demographic mechanisms affecting population structure of snow crabs in the northern Bering Sea. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 518:193-208. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11042

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