Social spacing of crayfish in natural habitats: what role does dominance play?

TitleSocial spacing of crayfish in natural habitats: what role does dominance play?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsFero KC, Moore PA
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

We examined the impact of dominance on crayfish social spacing and resource control. Spatial distributions of individual crayfish, Orconectes propinquus, were recorded from five sample sites in Douglas Lake, MI, USA. Crayfish populations from each site were collected and then immediately transferred to artificial ponds in order to reproduce potential dominance hierarchies. After 15 h of observation in the artificial ponds, hierarchies were found to stabilize and dominance for each crayfish was scored based on the percentage of total fights an individual won. These dominance scores were then regressed against nearest neighbor distance obtained from field data, crayfish size, and shelter evictions observed during hierarchy formation. Dominant crayfish were found to have greater nearest neighbor distances than lower ranking crayfish. In addition, as the difference in dominance score between nearest neighbors increased, the distance between them also increased. Although claw size was an accurate predictor of dominance, size did not correlate with nearest neighbor distance. Factors such as social dynamics may thus play a larger role in natural crayfish populations than previously thought. Dominant crayfish also performed more shelter evictions during hierarchy formation, which were correlated with nearest neighbor distance, suggesting that eviction by dominant crayfish may enforce spacing. Social status appears to significantly impact crayfish spatial distribution and shelter acquisition such that more dominant crayfish exhibit increased control over space and shelter. Finally, this study suggests the possibility that stable crayfish dominance hierarchies exist in nature.