The Reproductive Ecology and Biology of the Pill-box Crab: Halicarcinus cookii (Brachyura: Hymenosomatidae) Filhol, 1885
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
This study investigates the reproductive strategies of the pill-box crab, Halicarcinus cookii on the Kaikoura Peninsula, New Zealand. Various aspects essential to understanding reproductive strategies were examined including growth, population dynamics, reproductive biology and mating behaviour. H. cookii exhibits obvious sexual dimorphism such that females develop wide abdomens forming brood chambers, and males tend to grow larger than females and have larger chelipeds in relation to body size. H. cookii allocates energy into growth and reproduction in separate phases of its life cycle where growth ceases as reproductive maturity begins due to a terminal/pubertal moult. Despite the presence of ovigerous females throughout the 15 month sampling period, the population was highly seasonal, with peaks in recruitment and growth occurring primarily during the winter months and peaks in numbers of mature individuals during the summer months. Reproductive output increased with body size in H. cookii, as larger females produced more eggs and larger males transferred more sperm than their smaller counterparts. Ovaries matured prior to the terminal/pubertal moult (anecdysis) and, in multiparous females, in synchrony with brood development, allowing females to produce broods in quick succession, maximising their reproductive output in their short life span (approximately 12-18 months, 6 months as an adult). Incubation duration of broods decreased as seawater temperature increased, suggesting that temperature is the primary cause of the seasonal population cycling. Sperm storage allowed females to produce at least 4 fertilised broods without re-mating. Some sperm mixing in the spermathecae appeared to occur and the ventral-type structure implies last male sperm precedence. Males therefore preferentially mated with females closest to laying a new brood and guarded them longer than other females to ensure their paternity. Guarding duration varied according to the sex ratio allowing males to maximise their reproductive output.