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Climate change implicated in decline of horseshoe crabs
Date:8/30/2010

ich used to feed mainly on adult horseshoe crabs and blue crabs in Chesapeake Bay, already have been forced to find other less suitable sources of food, perhaps contributing to declines in Virginia's sea turtle abundance. Additionally, horseshoe crab eggs are an important source of food for millions of migrating shorebirds. This is particularly true for the red knot, an at-risk shorebird that uses horseshoe crab eggs at Delaware Bay to refuel during its marathon migration of some 10,000 miles. Since the late 1990s, both horseshoe crabs and red knot populations in the Delaware Bay area have declined, although census numbers for horseshoe crabs have increased incrementally recently.

"Population size decreases of these ancient mariners have implications beyond the obvious," King said. "Genetic diversity is the most fundamental level of biodiversity, providing the raw material for evolutionary processes to act upon and affording populations the opportunity to adapt to their surroundings. For this reason, the low effective population sizes indicated in the new study give one pause."

These studies should help conservation managers make better-informed decisions about protecting horseshoe crabs and other species with a similar evolutionary history. For example, the 2005 study indicated males moved between bays but females did not, suggesting management efforts may best be targeted at local populations instead of regional ones since an absence of enough females may result in local extinctions.

"Consequently, harvest limitations on females in populations with low numbers may be a useful management strategy, as well as relocating females from adjacent bays to help restore certain populations," King said. "Both studies highlight the importance of considering both climatic change and other human-caused factors such as overharvest in understanding the population dynamics of this and other species."


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Contact: Catherine Puckett
cpuckett@usgs.gov
352-264-3532
United States Geological Survey
Source:Eurekalert

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