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Effect of food availability on the growth and thermal physiology of juvenile Dungeness crabs (Metacarcinus magister).

  • Author(s): McLean, Katherine M;
  • Todgham, Anne E
  • et al.

Juvenile Dungeness crabs spend ~1 year in the San Francisco Estuary, where they undergo considerable growth before returning to the coastal ocean. Previous studies suggest that competition, food scarcity and avoidance of conspecifics may cause some juvenile Dungeness crabs in the San Francisco Estuary to become food limited. Food limitation may force these crabs to forage in higher temperature intertidal environments in the estuary, exposing them to stressful conditions in order to sustain growth and, potentially, necessitating physiological trade-offs in energy allocation between growth and stress tolerance. To investigate the effects of food limitation on aerobic metabolism and physiological performance of crabs, we assessed growth, moulting frequency, metabolic rate, citrate synthase and malate dehydrogenase enzyme activity and cardiac performance, as an index of temperature sensitivity and upper temperature tolerance. Summer- and winter-caught crabs were acclimated to either a high- or a low-food ration for 5 weeks. Overall, our results demonstrated that while food limitation had a negative effect on growth of juvenile Dungeness crabs in both the summer and the winter feeding trials, crabs in the low-food group maintained both metabolic rate at ambient San Francisco Estuary temperatures (15°C; summer trial only) and upper temperature tolerance as determined by failure of cardiac function when compared with crabs in the high-food group (summer and winter trials). Therefore, the ability to maintain stress tolerance when food is limited appears to come as a physiological trade-off to growth. Food-limited crabs were unable to increase their metabolic rate to the same level as that achieved by well-fed crabs; therefore, if exposure to elevated temperatures persists and requires more energy than can be met by crabs in their food-limited state, physiological performance may be compromised.

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