Spontaneous alternation in marine crabs: invasive versus native species

Behav Processes. 2009 Sep;82(1):51-5. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2009.04.006. Epub 2009 Apr 18.


Organisms ranging from paramecia to humans tend to explore places that have been least recently explored, which is referred to as spontaneous alternation. Although organisms rely on different sources of information in alternating between places, the emergent behavioral pattern is likely advantageous during exploration and foraging. Under this rationale, continuous spontaneous alternation performance of the invasive green crab, Carcinus maenas was assessed and compared with the native blue crab, Callinectes sapidus in a plus-maze submerged in seawater. For the first time spontaneous alternation behavior was demonstrated in Crustacea (i.e., C. maenas) and significant interspecific differences in alternation performance were observed between the invasive versus the native species. Carcinus maneas exhibited a pronouncedly higher spontaneous alternation performance than C. sapidus. Carcinus maneas on average alternated at levels higher than chance, which was not the case for C. sapidus. These observations point to an additional behavioral mechanism that might result in the competitive success of green crabs over blue crabs in areas where they co-occur. Most of the subjects exhibited asymptotic alternation performance from the onset; there was no improvement in their performance over the course of the experimental session. This finding implies the innate nature of this behavioral policy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brachyura*
  • Exploratory Behavior*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maze Learning
  • Species Specificity