Blue Crab Population Ecology and Use by Foraging Whooping Cranes on the Texas Gulf Coast
Greer, Danielle Marie
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In 2002, a proposal was submitted to divert water from the confluence of the Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers to San Antonio, Texas. To investigate the potential impacts of diverting water from the Guadalupe Estuary, my research focused on the foraging ecology of the crane and population ecology of the blue crab, a documented crane food. During winters 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, I examined diets and optimal foraging patterns of territorial adult cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. To identify foods of greatest benefit to cranes, I used currencies of optimization to evaluate foraging gain, cost, and efficiency. Foraging benefit differed among foods, depending on the foraging currency used and resource targeted (e.g., energy). Wolfberry fruit, snails, and insects were consumed in the highest quantities, required the least foraging effort, and were generally associated with the highest foraging efficiency. Blue crabs and clams were important sources of protein and biomass. During September 2003-October 2005, I used novel artificial settlement substrates and modified methods of standard deployment to investigate the spatio-temporal patterns of blue crab terminal settlement and recruitment rates. Monitoring rates in shallow bay habitat and ponds of the interior salt-marsh revealed megalopal crabs were developmentally advanced when arriving to study sites and the extent to which young crabs infiltrated the salt-marsh increased with age. Such findings suggested sites represented optimal terminal settlement habitat and consequently critical nursery habitat. Model selection indicated water temperature before and during embryonic development was the best predictor of megalopal settlement, whereas juvenile recruitment was most influenced by recent precipitation. I studied the size-specific abundance patterns of blue crabs in and around mature salt-marsh. Using drop-trapping and throw-trapping methods, I collected monthly samples in several habitats during October 2004-March 2006. Interior-marsh habitats contained fewer but larger crabs than bay habitat. Crabs contributing greatest to biomass were smallest (11-30 mm carapace-width) in bay habitat, larger (31-80 mm) along interior-marsh pond edges, and largest (41-130 mm) in interior-marsh open water. Model selection revealed crab density was most influenced by micro-site characteristics (habitat, water column structure type and structural complexity). Overall, shallow bay provided important nursery habitat for young blue crabs and interior marsh ponds were important for dispersing juvenile and adult crabs.