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Crustacean mouthparts
Functional morphology
Habitat adaptation
Plumose setae
Spoon-tipped setae
Issue Date: 
Lim, S. S. L., & Goh, S. J. A. (2021). Ecomorphological adaptations of second maxilliped-setation: Insights from three species of fiddler crabs from Panama. Zoological Studies, 60, Article 48.
Zoological Studies
The functional morphology of maxilliped-setation in three species of fiddler crabs—Petruca panamensis, Leptuca terpsichores and L. beebei— collected from Panama were studied using a comparative ecomorphological approach. The coverage of spoon-tipped (ST) and plumose (P) setae on the inner surface of the second maxilliped were noted, and the abundance of each setal type was enumerated, with crab carapace width as the covariate. These attributes were then related to the sediment particle size characterization of their respective collection sites for an ecomorphological comparison. All three species have mixed setation, albeit in different proportions of coverage. For L. terpsichores, the ST:P coverage was consistently ca. 70%:30% whereas there was approximately equal coverage of both setal types (i.e., 50% ST:50% P) on the maxillipeds of L. beebei and P. panamensis. Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) results of setal counts between the sexes in each species showed that the number of ST and P setae did not differ significantly between males and females, indicating an absence of sexual dimorphism in mouthpart setae. When all three species were compared—sexes combined within each species— ANCOVA results reveal that for any crab of a given size, there were significantly more ST setae on the second maxilliped of L. terpsichores (sediment from sampling site classified as ‘moderately-sorted medium sand’) than L. beebei (sediment from sampling site classified as ‘moderately-sorted fine sand’) and P. panamensis (a rocky-habitat species); no significant difference was detected between ST abundance in the latter two species. Current results provide unequivocal quantitative evidence that the abundance of ST setae can be an indicator to differentiate habitats down to the level of different sand-grain size, i.e., medium sand versus fine sand habitats of L. terpsichores and L. beebei, respectively. Both L. beebei and P. panamensis had significantly fewer ST setae than L. terpsichores, possibly because the former two species’ habitats have sediments with sand grains that are less coarse than the latter’s. On rocks, P. panamensis does not produce pseudofecal pellets as they directly swallow food materials pinched from the rock surfaces without sorting, rendering the role of ST setae of secondary importance. The three species did not differ significantly in P setae abundance, suggesting that the adaptive function of this type of setae to habitat characteristics remains debatable. The significance of ST setae as an ecomorphological adaptation for efficient food extraction from sandy sediments is, thus, evident in L. terpsichores. As for other two species—L. beebei and P. panamensis—that live in environments with finer sediment grain sizes, the adaptive role of ST setae is of diminished functional importance. Fiddler crab species with mixed setal types may have greater potential to exhibit feeding plasticity should their habitats be threatened.
Project number: 
RI 8/10 SL
Funding Agency: 
National Institute of Education, Singapore
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