Juvenile Dungeness crab foraging behavior and lipid composition is altered more by food quantity than seawater pH in a multi-stressor experiment


  • We fed juvenile crab a maintenance- or low-quantity diet at ambient or reduced pH.
  • Foraging behaviors changed depending on diet and pH exposure but pH sensing did not.
  • Crab fatty acid composition was altered due to diet and pH exposure.
  • Crab lipid and fatty acid concentrations did not change due to pH exposure.
  • Crab in regions with pH and food supply variability may be resilient to reduced pH.


Increases in atmospheric, anthropogenic carbon are driving reductions in seawater pH, a process referred to as ocean acidification. Reduced seawater pH can influence behavior of marine animals, but little is currently known about how juvenile crustaceans will respond. We conducted lab experiments to improve our understanding of the consequences of pH exposure and food quantity on juvenile Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister, (Dana, 1852)) behavior and nutritional condition. To understand the foraging and pH sensing behavior of juvenile crab, and how this interacts with their nutritional status, we exposed recently settled second instar juveniles to either ambient pH or reduced pH for 42-d, crossed with either a ‘maintenance’- or low-quantity ‘challenge’ diet treatment. After the experimental exposure period, we introduced crab into foraging and sensing pH behavior experiments. In the foraging experiment, we placed crab in a behavior arena with unidirectional flow, where we measured the food discovery time and time allocation of activities in 300-s trials for all individual crab. Food quantity and pH exposure influenced both the speed with which juvenile crab identified and allocation of activities but there was no interactive effect of experimental factors. For our pH sensing experiment, we used a two-current flume plumbed with both ambient and reduced pH seawater. This flow-through flume provided a choice between the pH treatment waters and allowed us to measure the amount of time individuals spent on either side of the arena in 300-s trials. There was no effect of prior diet or pH exposure on the amount of time juvenile crab spent in either seawater pH condition. In addition to the behavior trials, we evaluated crab nutritional condition by quantifying the total lipid content of whole-body tissues and fatty acid profile composition of juvenile crab fed either the maintenance or low-quantity diet during the experimental pH exposure period. The proportional fatty acid profiles differed for crab based on their diet and pH exposure, with no interactive effects. However, we did not detect differences in the concentrations of key summary categories of fatty acids (e.g., saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated) based on pH exposure. Our results indicate that reduced food availability has a greater impact on juvenile Dungeness crab foraging behavior and nutritional condition than reduced seawater pH exposure representing the 0.3 pH unit decrease predicted by 2100.

Schram J. B., Hayes H. G., Street E., Thompson N., Yoshioka R. M. & Galloway A. W. E., 2023. Juvenile Dungeness crab foraging behavior and lipid composition is altered more by food quantity than seawater pH in a multi-stressor experiment. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 563: 151897. doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2023.151897. Article.

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