Through predators' eyes: phenotype-environment associations in shore crab coloration at different spatial scales

Ossi Nokelainen*, Nik Hubbard, Alice E. Lown, Louisa E. Wood, Martin Stevens

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Phenotype-environment associations in coloration often involve camouflage, enabling organisms to blend into their environment and thereby reducing predatory attacks. The nature of any associations may vary among receivers with different visual systems and at different spatial scales, but these effects have rarely been investigated together. We studied shore crabs (Carcinus maenas), at seven intertidal sites in the south-west UK. We used image analysis and vision modelling to examine the relationships with predator vision (bird/fish), crab maturity (adult/juvenile) and habitat spatial scale (meso/micro) on shore crab coloration, in order to establish links between crab appearance and habitat. We show that crabs are likely to be more colourful to tetrachromatic birds than to dichromatic fish, while fish may see the crabs as being lighter and with larger patterns. Adult crabs had more uniform coloration, whereas juveniles showed more variable colour patterns. At the mesoscale, rock pool and mussel habitats harboured crabs with more variable coloration, whereas crabs from mudflats were more uniform. Comparisons at the microscale revealed a wide range of carapace variation, including divergent crab patterning on red and green algal beds. Our findings have implications for the evolution of camouflage under multi-species predation risk in heterogeneous environments in nature.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)738-751
    Number of pages14
    JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
    Issue number4
    Early online date27 Sept 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


    • avian vision
    • camouflage
    • Carcinus maenas
    • fish vision
    • predator-prey interactions
    • vision modelling
    • UKRI
    • BBSRC
    • BB/G022887/1


    Dive into the research topics of 'Through predators' eyes: phenotype-environment associations in shore crab coloration at different spatial scales'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this