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Interspecific Attractiveness of Structures Built by Courting Male Fiddler Crabs: Experimental Evidence of a Sensory Trap

John H. Christy, Patricia R. Y. Backwell and Ursula Schober
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Vol. 53, No. 2 (Jan., 2003), pp. 84-91
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4602186
Page Count: 8
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Interspecific Attractiveness of Structures Built by Courting Male Fiddler Crabs: Experimental Evidence of a Sensory Trap
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Abstract

Male fiddler crabs Uca musica sometimes build sand hoods and male Uca beebei sometimes build mud pillars next to their burrows to which they attract females for mating. Mate-searching females preferentially approach these structures and subsequently mate with structure builders. Here we show that the preference for structures is not species-specific and argue that it may not have evolved for mate choice. When not near burrows, many species of fiddler crabs approach and temporarily hide near objects, suggesting that hoods and pillars may attract females because they elicit this general predator-avoidance behavior. To test this sensory trap hypothesis we individually released female U. musica, U. beebei and Uca stenodactylus, a non-builder, in the center of a circular array of empty burrows to which we added hoods and pillars and then moved a model predator toward the females. All species ran to structures to escape the predator and the two builders preferred hoods. Next, we put hood replicas on male U. beebei burrows and pillar replicas on male U. musica burrows. When courted, females of both species preferentially approached hoods as they did when chased with a predator. However, males of both species with hoods did not have higher mating rates than males with pillars perhaps because hoods block more of a male's visual field so he sees and courts fewer females. Sexual selection may often favor male signals that attract females because they facilitate general orientation or navigation mechanisms that reduce predation risk in many contexts, including during mate search.

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