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Journal Article

Physical Constraints on Ecological Processes: A Field Test of Odor-Mediated Foraging

Christopher M. Finelli, N. Dean Pentcheff, Richard K. Zimmer and David S. Wethey
Ecology
Vol. 81, No. 3 (Mar., 2000), pp. 784-797
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Ecological Society of America
DOI: 10.2307/177377
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/177377
Page Count: 14

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Topics: Odors, Clams, Plumes, Crabs, Amino acids, Foraging, Animal organs, Walking, Chemicals, Turbulence
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Physical Constraints on Ecological Processes: A Field Test of Odor-Mediated Foraging
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Abstract

The physicochemical environment can strongly constrain the outcome of ecological interactions such as predation, mating, and competition. This is especially true of processes mediated by the sense of olfaction, because wind and water currents control the dispersal of odor signals and act as ancillary cues during odor plume following. In the field, we examined how variations in the physical and chemical properties of odor plumes would alter the foraging behavior of the blue crab Callinectes sapidus, a common predator/scavenger in tidal marsh creeks in the southeastern United States. We video-recorded responses of naturally foraging crabs to odor plumes of varying composition and odor release rate (characteristic of clams of differing size). During each trial we presented crabs with an experimental plume that was a mixture of fluorescein-dyed seawater and clam mantle fluid, oyster mantle fluid, or a suite of amino acids, and a control plume which consisted of dyed seawater only. In addition to manipulating the chemical composition and odor release rate of the plume, we allowed flow speed to vary naturally with the tide. We tested for effects of odor composition, odor release rate, and flow speed on the success (i.e., finding the target) and efficiency (i.e., search path direction) of blue crab foraging. Mantle fluid solutions and wounded prey items elicited active search and upstream walking, while control and amino acid solutions had no effect on crab behavior. Odors released at a low rate (either low volume flow or low concentration) elicited fewer responses from crabs, and the resulting search was less efficient and less successful than responses to odors released at higher rates. Ambient current speed also affected both search success and efficiency. There was a decline in search success when current speed in the tidal channel was below 1 cm/s; search success remained constantly high, however, when current speed was above this threshold. Search efficiency was directly proportional to ambient current speeds. Such relationships between hydrodynamic and chemical properties of the environment and foraging success and efficiency suggest that variation in the physicochemical environment can influence the detectability of prey and strategies employed by foragers. These results extend beyond the foraging of marine crustaceans into other olfactory-mediated interactions and habitats.

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