Effects of prior experience on shelter-seeking behavior of juvenile American lobsters

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Bayer, Skylar R.
Bianchi, Katherine M.
Atema, Jelle
Jacobs, Molly W.
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Shelter-seeking behaviors are vital for survival for a range of juvenile benthic organisms. These behaviors may be innate or they may be affected by prior experience. After hatching, American lobsters Homarus americanus likely first come into contact with shelter during the late postlarval (decapodid) stage, known as stage IV. After the subsequent molt to the first juvenile stage (stage V), they are entirely benthic and are thought to be highly cryptic. We hypothesized that postlarval (stage IV) experience with shelter would carry over into the first juvenile stage (stage V) and reduce the time needed for juveniles to locate and enter shelters (sheltering). We found some evidence of a carryover effect, but not the one we predicted: stage V juveniles with postlarval shelter experience took significantly longer to initiate sheltering. We also hypothesized that stage V juveniles would demonstrate learning by relocating shelters more quickly with immediate prior experience. Our findings were mixed. In a maze, juveniles with immediate prior experience were faster to regain visual contact with shelter, suggesting that they had learned the location of the shelter. In contrast, there was no significant effect of immediate prior experience on time to initiate sheltering in an open arena, or in the maze after juveniles had regained visual contact. We conclude that very young (stage V) juvenile lobsters modify their shelter-seeking behavior based on prior experiences across several timescales. Ecologically relevant variation in habitat exposure among postlarval and early juvenile lobsters may influence successful recruitment in this culturally and commercially important fishery species.
Author Posting. © University of Chicago, 2017. This article is posted here by permission of University of Chicago for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Biological Bulletin 232 (2017): 101-109, doi:10.1086/692697.
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Biological Bulletin 232 (2017): 101-109
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