Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Romuald N. Lipcius


This study concurrently quantified blue crab feeding habits and preference, and examined the inter-relationships between diet, predator preference, and predator and prey abundance and distribution in three subestuaries of lower Chesapeake Bay--the James, York and Rappahannock Rivers, Virginia. Complementary laboratory investigations estimated the combined effect of the functional, aggregative and interference responses upon prey and predator survival and predator foraging rates for blue crabs and a common bivalve prey, Macoma balthica, in this system. Crab abundance, prey abundance and diet were correlated such that blue crabs aggregated in areas of highest preferred (i.e., bivalve) prey abundance, as determined through electivity analyses. Spatial and size-related differences in diet selection occurred. at least two trophic groups were distinguished, based on their relative consumption of bivalves and crabs, including conspecifics (i.e., older juveniles and adults) or polychaetes and small crustaceans (i.e., younger juveniles and new recruits). Spatial differences were reflected by proportional bivalve consumption: crabs always preferred bivalves, but in areas of relatively lower bivalve abundance, opportunistically expanded their diets to include other prey taxa. Cannibalism was common, but the frequency of occurrence varied with crab size, season, river, new juvenile recruit abundance, and the density of alternative preferred prey. Laboratory experiments assessed the joint effects of varying predator and prey densities upon predator foraging rates and prey survival. A full-factorial experimental design involved 2 prey and 3 predator densities with 6 trials per treatment combination. Blue crabs exhibited density-dependent foraging under all conditions: proportionally more clams were consumed at higher clam density. Furthermore, at the higher crab densities, mutual interference was evident in the incidence of wounds and deaths to crabs resulting from cannibalism or intraspecific aggression. The collective results indicate that both predator and prey densities must be examined experimentally for their joint impact upon predator-prey dynamics in marine systems.



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