Numerous species of estuarine and freshwater-tolerant crabs show an export strategy, i.e. an early larval downstream transport towards coastal marine waters, later zoeal development at higher salinities, and a return of the last larval stage, the megalopa, into estuaries or rivers. The speed and extent of the upstream migration of the megalopa through strong salinity gradients may be constrained by increasing hypo-osmotic stress. In an experimental laboratory study with Armases roberti, a freshwater-inhabiting sesarmid crab from the Caribbean region, we studied in the megalopa stage (after zoeal rearing at 25) the tolerance of reduced salinities. In the first experiment, the larvae were exposed directly to various constant salinities (125). For the second experiment, they were transferred stepwise to strongly diluted media (within 6 days from 25 to ≤3), simulating differential scenarios of upstream migration into brackish or freshwater habitats. When postmoult megalopae were exposed directly to salinities ≤3, they all died within 24 h. A slightly higher salt concentration (5), however, allowed for considerable survival (46%) through metamorphosis to the first juvenile crab stage. In treatments with continuous exposure to 1015, as well as in a control group (25), survival to metamorphosis was significantly higher (8396%), and the average duration of development was shorter compared to 5 (1213 vs. 16 days). In the second experiment, with stepwise salinity reductions, gradual acclimation to decreasing osmotic pressures permitted a successful development to metamorphosis at ≤3 and even in freshwater (b0.2). This strong physiological adaptability enables the megalopa of A. roberti to cross during its upstream migration, within a short time (6 days), strong osmotic gradients, so that metamorphosis is possible also in freshwater habitats where the conspecific adult crabs live. The speed of migration appears to be limited by physiological constraints related to changes in the capability for osmoregulation occurring during the course of the moulting cycle.
Helmholtz Research Programs > MARCOPOLI (2004-2008) > CO2-Coastal diversity - key species and food webs