Ecology of subtropical hermit crabs in SW Madagascar: short-range migrations
Many mobile animals migrate because of the different benefits provided by different localities in time and space. For hermit crabs, such benefits include resource (shell, water, food) acquisition and gamete release. One of the more successful crustacean land-invaders, Coenobita hermit crabs, undertake complex short-range migrations in SW Madagascar. Number of active hermit crabs was inversely related to wind strength and positively related to tidal range, emphasising that movement would conserve water. A circadian component was also recorded in the locomotory activity of Coenobita pseudorugosus and C. rugosus. Path linearity varied with many of the same parameters, but also with beach slope. Movement was primarily perpendicular to shore in small individuals, but the parallel proportion increased with hermit crab size and tidal range, probably driven mostly by shell and food searching. Despite the costs of movement and shell carriage in the terrestrial environment, C. pseudorugosus and C. rugosus were as fast as their marine counterparts. Their speeds varied principally with individual size and were approximately 20% faster without shells and about 20% slower when climbing up a 20° slope, compared to horizontal or downhill travel. Hermit crabs, which are highly numerous and speciose in SW Madagascar, do not seem to partition niches by differential movement patterns. Aside from provision of shells in middens and capturing large adults for bait or pets, human activity may have a profound effect on hermit crab movement: observations at rare uninhabited marine reserves like Nosy Ve show that considerable diurnal activity may take place despite the apparent hostility of the environment to an essentially marine animal.