Developmental ecology of the American horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus
Mark L. BOTTON, Richard A. TANKERSLEY, Robert E. LOVELAND
D e p a r t m e n t o f N a t u r a l S c i e n c e s , F o r d h a m U n i v e r s i t y , N e w Y o r k , N Y 1 0 0 2 3 , U S A
During spawning events, horseshoe crab eggs are released from the female’s oviducts, and fertilized by one or more males. Eggs are shaped by the female into discrete clutches deposited in nests at depths of 10-20 cm on intertidal estuarine beaches. Distinguishing between fresh eggs and the early developmental stages is obfuscated by the large amount of dense, opaque yolk. The first unambiguous confirmation of development is the formation of the rudimentary prosomatic appendages at the “limb bud” stage. Several days thereafter, the outer chorion is shed and the developing embryo expands and undergoes a series of molts within the clear inner egg membrane. The trilobite (first instar) stage thus attained may remain within the beach sediments for several more weeks, until hatching is facilitated by environmental factors such as hydration, agitation, and osmotic shock that accompany the infiltration of seawater into the nests. Trilobites exhibit endogenous circatidal swimming rhythms that are entrained by mechanical agitation, suggesting that peaks in larval swimming are timed to coincide with periods of high water and the inundation of the nests. Larval swimming is limited and does not appear to result in long-distance dispersal. The limited dispersal of the larvae has important implications for the population dynamics of relatively isolated populations. The rate of larval development is highly plastic and is influenced by temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and the presence of pollutants. The broad environmental tolerances of horseshoe crab embryos and larvae are important in understanding their current geographic distribution and their evolutionary persistence [Current Zoology 56 (5): 550–562, 2010].
Key words Horseshoe crab, Limulus, Development, Embryo, Larval dispersal