Abstract

Aratus pisonii is an abundant Neotropical mangrove crab that forages on fresh leaf tissue in the canopy and lives in a wide spectrum of habitats. It presents great plasticity in some aspects of its life history becoming an excellent subject for comparative studies. The purpose of this study was to investigate possible reproductive variations among populations of this crab in mangroves with different levels of structural development, and explore the direct and indirect effects of environmental variables on reproductive investment. The study was conducted during the rainy season of 2003 and 2004, in North Western Venezuela. Fecundity (number of eggs/female), dry weight of egg mass (PSH) and egg quality (C/Neggs) were evaluated in five populations of this species, in mangroves under different environmental conditions (estuarine, marine, hypersaline) and diverse degrees of structural development (arboreal, arbustive, scrub). Reproductive output (Ro) was obtained by the ratio Ro=PSH/dry body weight (PSC); other estimations of Ro were tested: Ro1=PSH/carapace length (CL), Ro2=fecundity/CL. A path analysis was used to explore causal relationships between environmental and morphological variables and reproductive investment (PSH, fecundity). Fecundity ranged from 6 463±831 eggs (Mean±SE) in the hypersaline arbustive mangrove to a maximum of 24 584±2 393 eggs in estuarine arboreal mangrove, which presents the greatest structural development. The reproductive output of females showed significant differences among mangroves, with the highest values of Ro1, Ro2 in the estuarine mangrove females. The results of the path analysis indicated a multicausal effect of morphological and environmental variables; in particular, the salinity showed the greatest influence on fecundity and PSH. The condition of the estuarine mangrove forests with lower salinity and higher structural development involving higher quality of mangrove leaves and a wider range of potential resources, may explain the higher reproductive output of females observed in this habitat.

Keywords: Crustacea, fecundity, reproductive output, elemental composition of eggs, path analysis, mangrove, Venezuela