, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1472–1479 | Cite as

Abundance and dispersal potential of horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) larvae in the Delaware estuary



The distribution, abundance, and dispersal patterns of horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) trilobite larvae were determined from 671 plankton tows taken near a spawning beach in lower Delaware Bay, New Jersey, in 1998 and 1999. In both years, peaks in larval abundance occurred during periods of rough surf (>30 cm wave heights). Planktonic larvae were significantly more abundant nocturnally than during the day, but there was no evidence of a lunar component to larval abundance. Larvae were strongly concentrated inshore; trilobites were 10–100 times more abundant in the immediate vicinity of the shoreline than they were 100–200 m offshore. The strong tendency ofLimulus larvae to remain close to the beach suggests that their capability for long-range dispersal between estuaries is extremely limited. We suggest that limited larval dispersal potential may help explain previously observed patterns of genetic variation among the Mid-Atlantic horseshoe crab populations.


Wave Height High Tide Blue Crab Horseshoe Crab Larval Abundance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Literature Cited

  1. Avise, J. C. 1992. Molecular population structure and the biogeographic history of a regional fauna: A case history with lessons for conservation biology.Oikos 63:62–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ayvazian, S. G., M. S. Johnson, andD. J. McGlashan. 1994. High levels of genetic subdivision of marine and estuarine populations of the estuarine catfishCnidoglanis macrocephalus (Plotosidae) in southwestern Australia.Marine Biology 118:25–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Botton, M. L. andR. E. Loveland. 1992. Body size, morphological constraints, and mated pair formation in four populations of horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) along a geographic cline.Marine Biology 112:409–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Botton, M. L., R. E. Loveland, andT. R. Jacobsen. 1992. Overwintering by trilobite larvae of the horseshoe crabLimulus polyphemus on a sandy beach of Delaware Bay (New Jersey, USA).Marine Ecology Progress Series 88:289–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Botton, M. L. andJ. W. Ropes. 1987. Populations of horseshoe crabs,Limulus polyphemus, on the northwestern Atlantic continental shelf.Fishery Bulletin 85:805–812.Google Scholar
  6. Ehlinger, G. S. 2002. Spawning behavior and larval biology of the American horseshoe crab,Limulus polyphemus, in a microtidal coastal lagoon. Ph.D. Dissertation, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida.Google Scholar
  7. Ehlinger, G. S., R. A. Tankersley, andM. B. Bush. 2003. Spatial and temporal patterns of spawning and larval, hatching by the horseshoe crab,Limulus polyphemus, in a microtidal coastal lagoon.Estuaries 26:631–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Epifanio, C. E. 1988. Transport of crab larvae between estuaries and the continental shelf.Lecture Notes on Coastal and Estuarine Studies 22:291–305.Google Scholar
  9. Epifanio, C. E. 1995. Transport of blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) larvae in the waters off mid-Atlantic statesBulletin of Marine Science 57:713–725.Google Scholar
  10. Galperin, B. andG. L. Mellor. 1990. A time-dependent, three-dimensional model of the Delaware Bay and river system. Part 2: Three-dimensional flow fields and residual circulation.Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 31:255–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Garvine, R. W., C. E. Epifanio, C. C. Epifanio, andK.-C. Wong. 1997. Transport and recruitment of blue crab larvae: A model with advection and mortality.Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 45:99–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gold, J. R., T. L. King, L. R. Richardson, D. A. Bohlmeyer, andG. C. Matlock. 1994. Allozyme differentiation within and between red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.Journal of Fish Biology 44:567–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grimm, V., K. Reise, andM. Strasser. 2003. Marine metapopulations: A useful concept?Helgoland Marine Research 56:222–228.Google Scholar
  14. Hanski, I. andM. Gilpin. 1991. Metapopulation dynamics: Brief history and conceptual domain.Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 42:3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hedgecock, D.. 1986. Is gene flow from pelagic larval dispersal important in the adaptation and evolution of marine invertebrates?Bulletin of Marine Science 39:550–564.Google Scholar
  16. Hidu, H. andH. H. Haskin. 1971. Setting of the American oyster related to environmental factors and larval behavior.Proceedings of the National Shellfisheries Association 61:35–50.Google Scholar
  17. Hines, A. H.. 1986. Larval patterns in the life histories of brachyuran crabs (Crustacea, Decapoda, Brachyura).Bulletin of Marine Science 39:444–466.Google Scholar
  18. Itow, T. 1993. Crisis in the Seto Inland Sea: The decimation of the horseshoe crab.EMECS Newsletter 3:10–11.Google Scholar
  19. Jackson, N. L. andK. F. Nordstrom. 1993. Depth of activation of sediment by plunging breakers on a steep sand beach.Marine Geology 115:143–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lambert, R. andC. E. Epifanio. 1982. A comparison of dispersal strategies in two genera of brachyuran crab in a secondary estuary.Estuaries 5:182–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Loveland, R. E. andM. L. Botton. 1992. Size dimorphism and the mating system in horseshoe crabs,Limulus polyphemus L.Animal Behaviour 44:907–916.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McConaugha, J. R. 1992. Decapod larvae: Dispersal, mortality, and ecology. A working hypothesis.American Zoologist 32:512–523.Google Scholar
  23. McMillen-Jackson, A. L., T. M. Bert, andP. Steele. 1994. Population genetics of the blue crabCallinectes sapidus: Modest population structuring in a background of high gene flow.Marine Biology 118:53–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Morton, B. 1999. On turtles, dolphins and, now, Asia's horsehoe crabs.Marine Pollution Bulletin 38:845–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mumby, P. J. 1999. Can Caribbean coral populations be modelled at metapopulation scales?Marine Ecology Progress Series 180:275–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ovenden, J. R. 1990. Mitochondrial DNA and marine stock assessment: A review.Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 41:835–853.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Palmer, A. R. andR. R. Strathmann. 1981. Scale of dispersal in varying environments and its implications for life histories of marine invertebrates.Oecologia 48:308–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Palumbi, S. R. 1994., Genetic divergence, reproductive isolation, and marine speciation.Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 25:547–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Palumbi, S. R. 1995. Using genetics as an indirect estimator of larval dispersal, p. 369–387.In I. McEdward (ed.) Ecology of Marine Invertebrate Larvae. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.Google Scholar
  30. Pape, E. H. andR. W. Garvine., 1982. The subtidal circulation in Delaware Bay and adjacent shelf waters.Journal of Geophysical Research 87:7955–7970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Penn, D. andH. J. Brockmann. 1994. Nest-site selection in the horseshoe crab,Limulus polyphemus.Biological Bulletin 187:373–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pierce, J. C., G. Tan, andP. M. Gaffney. 2000. Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay populations of the horseshoe crabLimulus polyphemus are genetically distinct.Estuaries 23:690–698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ray, G. C. 1997. Do the metapopulation dynamics of estuarine fishes influence the stability of shelf ecosystems?Bulletin of Marine Science 60:1040–1049.Google Scholar
  34. Reeb, C. A. andJ. C. Avise. 1990. A genetic discontinuity in a continuously distributed species: Mitochondrial DNA in the American oyster,Crassostrea virginica.Genetics 124:397–406.Google Scholar
  35. Riska, B. 1981. Morphological variation in the horseshoe crabLimulus polyphemus.Evolution 35:647–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Roberts, C. M. 1997. Connectivity and management of Caribbean coral reefs.Science 278:1454–1457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Roman, M. R. andW. C. Boicourt. 1999. Dispersion and recruitment of crab larvae in the Chesapeake Bay plume: Physical and biological controls.Estuaries 22:563–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rudloe, A. 1979. Locomotor and light responses of larvae of the horseshoe crab,Limulus polyphemus (L.).Biological Bulletin 157:494–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Saunders, N. C., L. G. Kessler, andJ. C. Avise. 1986. Genetic variation and geographic differentiation in mitochondrial DNA of the horseshoe crab,Limulus polyphemus.Genetics 112: 613–627.Google Scholar
  40. Scheltema, R. S. 1986. On dispersal and planktonic larvae of benthic invertebrates: An eclectic overview and summary of problems.Bulletin of Marine Science 39:290–322.Google Scholar
  41. Schrading, E., T. O'Connell, S. Michels, andP. Perra. 1998. Interstate fishery management plan for horseshoe crab. Fishery Management Report No. 32. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  42. Selander, R. K., S. Y. Yang, R. C. Lewontin, andW. E. Johnson. 1970. Genetic variation in the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus), a phylogenetic “relic”.Evolution 24:402–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Shuster, Jr.,C. N. 1955. On morphometric and serological relationships within the Limulidae, with particular reference toLimulus polyphemus. Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Shuster, Jr.,C. N. 1979. Distribution of the American horseshoe “crab,”Limulus polyphemus (L.), p. 3–26.In E. Cohen (ed.) Biomedical Applications of the Horseshoe Crab (Limulidae). Liss, New York.Google Scholar
  45. Solé-Cava, A. M., J. P. Thorpe, andC. D. Todd. 1994. High genetic similarity between geographically distant populations in a sea anemone with low dispersal capabilities.Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 74:895–902.Google Scholar
  46. Stoner, A. W., R. A. Glazer, andP. J. Barile. 1996. Larval supply to queen conch nurseries: Relationships with recruitment processes and population size in Florida and the Bahamas.Journal of Shellfish Research 15:407–420.Google Scholar
  47. Tuck, G. N. andH. P. Possingham. 2000. Marine protected areas for spatially structured exploited stocks.Marine Ecology Progress Series 192:89–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Walls, E. A., J. Berkson, andS. A. Smith. 2002. The horseshoe crab,Limulus polyphemus. 200 million years of existence, 100 years of study.Review in Fisheries Science 10:39–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Widener, J. W. andR. B. Barlow. 1999. Decline of a horseshoe crab population, on Cape Cod.Biological Bulletin 197:300–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Natural SciencesFordham College at Lincoln CenterNew York
  2. 2.Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Cook CollegeRutgers-The State UniversityNew Brunswick
  3. 3.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Cook CollegeRutgers-The State UniversityNew Brunswick

Personalised recommendations