Research Output

Phenotype-environment matching in the shore crab (Carcinus maenas)

  The shore crab (Carcinus maenas) exhibits a range of carapace pattern polymorphisms, but little is known regarding their function or maintenance. If patterns represent some form of crypsis, then associations between carapace colouration and substrate are expected; to determine whether such relationships exist, frequency of crab morphs and quantity of substrate type were measured from fifteen 10×40 m2 quadrats at each of three sites along the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, Scotland. Five thousand one hundred and thirty-seven crabs and 3.6 km of line intercept transect data were collected during a 9-week period. Crab abundance, relative frequency of morphs and substrate type varied significantly among the three sites. Plain crabs were strongly associated with macro-algal substrates whereas patterned crabs were associated with mussel beds. This pronounced phenotype-environment matching, as well as various characteristics of the carapace patterns themselves, suggests that patterned crabs are cryptic on polychromatic backgrounds. The frequency of patterned crabs and the percentage of white pigment on the carapace both declined significantly with carapace width. The loss of pattern coincides with an ontogenetic shift in habitat use and we present evidence to suggest that individual crabs lose their pigment, rather than larger patterned crabs being preferentially removed from the population by predators. Throughout their life history, shore crabs encounter high variation in predation, food supply, and physical habitat; to survive they have evolved a strategy that includes elements of pattern polymorphism, crypsis, ontogenetic shifts, and plastic responses.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    10 November 2005

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher

    Springer Science + Business Media

  • DOI:


  • Cross Ref:


  • ISSN:


  • Library of Congress:

    QH Natural history

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    577 Ecology


Todd, P. A., Briers, R. A., Ladle, R. J., & Middleton, F. (2006). Phenotype-environment matching in the shore crab (Carcinus maenas). Marine Biology, 148(6), 1357-1367.



Ecology, Aquatic Science,ecology Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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