Marine Biology

, 166:84 | Cite as

Cue specificity of predator-induced phenotype in a marine snail: is a crab just a crab?

  • Paul E. BourdeauEmail author
  • Dianna K. Padilla
Original paper


A wide range of taxa have been shown to display inducible, phenotypically plastic responses to known predators. Most studies of inducible defenses include only known predators but not non-predatory species in experimental designs, precluding tests of specificity for these responses. We tested the specificity of predator-induced defenses in the marine snail Nucella lamellosa, when exposed to chemical cues from potential crab predators as well as more distantly related non-predatory crabs that co-occur with this snail. Surprisingly, all crabs tested, even those that are not predators, triggered the common induced response of a reduction of soft-tissue mass relative to control animals, likely reflecting a reduction in snail feeding activity. In contrast, only N. lamellosa’s major predator, Cancer productus, triggered the production of a thicker apertural lip. Increased thickening of the apertural lip may be an adaptive response specific to C. productus, which uses shell-breaking at the apertural lip (i.e., shell-peeling) as their main form of attack. Apertural lip thickening appeared to be due to reallocation of shell material (i.e., a change in shell shape) rather than an increase in shell deposition. Our findings demonstrate the importance of determining the specificity of cues triggering inducible responses in prey, and the mechanisms that underlie these plastic responses, as the responses to general versus specific cues may limit the adaptive value of an inducible defense.



We thank the director and staff of Friday Harbor Laboratories for logistical support, M. Mach for help monitoring the experiment and drawing the snail in Fig. 1, and M. Dethier for graciously surrendering lab space to accommodate the experiment. G. Trussell and 2 anonymous reviewers provided constructive criticism on earlier versions of the manuscript. This is contribution number 1254 from the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University. The experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

Author contributions

PEB conceived, designed, and performed the experiment, and analyzed the data. PEB and DKP wrote and edited the manuscript.


A Stephen and Ruth Wainwright Fellowship supported PEB. DKP was supported by NSF IOS 0920032 during the writing of this paper and acknowledges the Helen C. Whitley Center at the Friday Harbor Laboratories.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for sampling, care, and experimental use of organisms for the study were followed. Research was completed under permits from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Supplementary material

227_2019_3526_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (159 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 159 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and EvolutionStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesHumboldt State UniversityArcataUSA

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