Field-based body temperatures reveal behavioral thermoregulation strategies of the Atlantic marsh fiddler crab Minuca pugnax
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Behavioral thermoregulation is an important defense against the negative impacts of climate change for ectotherms. In this study we examined the use of burrows by a common intertidal crab, Minuca pugnax, to control body temperature. To understand how body temperatures respond to changes in the surface temperature and explore how efficiently crabs exploit the cooling potential of burrows to thermoregulate, we measured body, surface, and burrow temperature data during low tide on Sapelo Island, GA in March, May, August, and September of 2019 . We found that an increase in 1°C in the surface temperature led to a 0.70-0.71°C increase in body temperature for females and an increase in 0.75-0.77 °C in body temperature for males. Body temperatures of small females were 0.3°C warmer than large females for the same surface temperature. Female crabs used burrows more efficiently for thermoregulation compared to the males. Specifically, an increase of 1 degree C in the cooling capacity (the difference between the burrow temperature and the surface temperature) led to an increase of 0.42-0.50°C for females and 0.34-0.35 °C for males in the thermoregulation capacity (the difference between body temperature and surface temperature). The body temperature that crabs began to use burrows to thermoregulate was estimated to be around 24 degree C, which is far below the critical body temperatures that could lead to death. Many crabs experience body temperatures of 24 °C early in the reproductive season, several months before the hottest days of the year. Because the use of burrows involves fitness trade-offs, these results suggest that warming temperatures could begin to impact crabs far earlier in the year than expected.