Potential effects of physiological plastic responses to salinity on population networks of the estuarine crab Chasmagnathus granulata
Chasmagnathus granulata is a South American crab occurring in estuarine salt marshes of the Brazilian, Uruguayan and Argentine coasts. Life history is characterized by an export strategy of its larval stages. I reviewed information on experimental manipulation of salinity during embryonic and larval development (pre- and posthatching salinities), and on habitat characteristics of C. granulata in order to determine potential effects of larval response to salinity in the field and to suggest consequences for the population structure. Local populations are spread over coastal areas with different physical characteristics. Benthic phases occupy estuaries characterized by different patterns of salinity variation, and release larvae to coastal waters characterized by strong salinity gradients. The zoea 1 of C. granulata showed a strong acclimatory response to low salinity. This response operated only during the first weeks of development (during zoeae 1 and 2) since subsequent larval survival at low posthatching salinities was consistently low. Larvae developing at low salinity frequently followed a developmental pathway with five instead of four zoeal stages. The ability to acclimate and the variability in larval development (i.e. the existence of alternative developmental pathways) could be interpreted as a strategy to buffer environmental variability at spatial scales of local or population networks. Early survivorship and production of larvae may be relatively high across a rather wide range of variability in salinity (5-32‰). Plastic responses to low salinity would therefore contribute to maintain a certain degree of population connectivity and persistence regardless of habitat heterogeneity.