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Flocking and feeding in the fiddler crab (Uca tangeri): prey availability as risk-taking behaviour
Ens, B.J.; Klaassen, M.; Zwarts, L. (1993). Flocking and feeding in the fiddler crab (Uca tangeri): prey availability as risk-taking behaviour. Neth. J. Sea Res. 31(4): 477-494
In: Netherlands Journal of Sea Research. Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ): Groningen; Den Burg. ISSN 0077-7579, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Ens, B.J., more
  • Klaassen, M.
  • Zwarts, L.

    For a full understanding of prey availability, it is necessary to study risk-taking behaviour of the prey. Fiddler crabs are ideally suited for such a study, as they have to leave their safe burrow to feed on the surface of the intertidal flats during low tide, thereby exposing themselves to avian predators. A study in an intertidal area along the coast of Mauritania showed that small crabs always stayed in the vicinity of their burrow, but large crabs wandered in large flocks (also referred to as droves) to feed on seagrass beds downshore. Transplanting downshore feeding substrate to the burrowing zone of the small crabs proved that they too preferred to feed on it. Since small crabs can be preyed upon by more species of birds, this suggests that the decision not to leave the burrowing zone might be related to the risk of being fed upon by birds. We calculated predation risk from measurements on the density and feeding activity of the crabs, as well as the feeding density, the intake rate and the size selection of the avian predators. Per hour on the surface, crabs in a flock were more at risk than crabs feeding near their burrow. Thus, though flocking crabs may have benefited from 'swamping the predator' by emerging in maximum numbers during some tides only, this did not reduce their risk of predation below that of non-flocking crabs. Furthermore we found that irrespective of activity, large crabs suffered a higher mortality per tide from avian predators than small crabs. This suggests that large crabs could not sufficiently reduce their foraging time to compensate for the increased risk while foraging in a flock, even though they probably experienced better feeding conditions than small crabs staying near their burrow. The greater energy demands of large crabs were reflected in a greater surface area grazed. Thus, with increasing size a fiddler crab has to feed further away from its burrow and so may derive less protection from staying near to it. It seems that growing big does not reduce the risk of predation for fiddler crabs, as it does in many other species with indeterminate growth. As in such species, the most probable advantage of growing big is increased mating success. Ultimately, therefore, prey availability must be understood from the life-history decisions of the prey species.

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