The population biology and genetics of the deep-sea spider crab, Encephaloides armstrongi Wood-Mason 1891 (Decapoda: Majidae)

S Creasey, A Rogers, Paul Tyler, C M Young, John D Gage

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45 Citations (Scopus)


Numerous specimens of the majid spider crab, Encephaloides armstrongi, were sampled from six stations (populations), between 150 and 650 m depth, on the continental slope off the coast of Oman. This extended the known geographic and bathymetric range of E. armstrongi, which is now known to occur along the continental margins of. the northern Indian Ocean from the western coast of Burma to the coast of Oman. This band-like distribution is contiguous to the oxygen minimum zone in this region. The biology and generics of populations of Encephaloides armstrongi separated by depth were studied. The overall sex ratio of the E. armstrongi sampled was male-biased (p <0.01; 3.3 males: 1 female; S-o = 0.538). However, sex ratio varied both between populations (p <0.01) and between size classes of crabs. Size frequency analysis indicated that the male and female crabs consisted of at least two instars, one between 6 and 16 mm carapace length and one between 16 and 29 mm carapace length, which probably represented the terminal (pubertal) moult for most individuals. Accumulation of female crabs in the terminal instar probably caused the variation of sex ratio with size classes. Some male crabs grew to a larger size (up to 38 mm carapace length), possibly as a result of maturity at later instars. Length frequency distribution was significantly different between sexes (one-way ANOVA p <0.001). Within sexes, length frequency distributions varied between different populations. In both male and female Encephaloides armstrongi the individuals from a single population located at 150 m depth were significantly smaller than individuals at all other stations and were considered to represent a juvenile cohort. For female crabs no other significant differences were detected in length frequency between populations from 300 m to 650 m depth. Significant differences in length frequency were detected between male crabs from populations between 300 and 650 m depth. Horizontal starch gel electrophoresis was used to detect six enzyme systems coding for eight loci for individuals sampled from each population of Encephaloides armstrongi. Genetic identity (I) values between populations of E. armstrongi (I = 0.98-1.00) were within the normal range for conspecific populations. Observed heterozygosity (H-o = 0.080-0.146) was lower than expected heterozygosity (H-e = 0.111-0.160): but in the normal range detected for eukaryotic organisms. F-statistics were used to analyse between population (F-ST) and within population (F-IS) genetic structure. For both male and female E. armstrongi significant genetic differentiation was detected between the population located at 150 m depth and all other populations. Analyses of F-IS and F-ST, excluding the 150 m population indicated that for female E. armstrongi there was no significant structuring within or between populations. For male E. armstrongi significant heterozygote deficiencies were detected within populations and significant genetic differentiation between populations. The most likely explanations for the observations of the present study are: the population of Encephaloides armstrongi located at 150 m depth represented a juvenile cohort that is genetically distinct from deeper populations; female E. armstrongi formed a single population between 300 m and 650 m depth in the sampling area; male E. armstrongi were from two or more genetically distinct populations which are represented by different numbers of individuals at stations between 300 m and 650 m depth. This caused the observed significant differences in morphology (size distribution) and allele frequencies of male populations. It is likely that E. armstrongi exhibits gender-biased dispersal and that the crabs collected between 300 m and 650 m depth formed spawning aggregations. This also explains the bias in ses ratio of individuals sampled in the present study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-379
Number of pages15
Issue number1351
Publication statusPublished - 1997


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