The evolution of waving displays in fiddler crabs (Uca spp., Crustacea: Ocypodidae)

Daniela M. Perez, Michael S. Rosenberg, Marcio R. Pie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Male fiddler crabs are commonly recognized by the presence of a single massive claw used in a variety of contexts, including territorial defence, agonistic interactions, and courtship behaviour. The most common behavioural context involving these enlarged chelipeds is their use in waving displays, which are remarkably diverse among species. Although the waving display is one of the most obvious behavioural features of male fiddler crabs, little is known about their main evolutionary trends during the diversification of the genus. The present study employed phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate the evolution of waving behaviour in a sample of 19 species of Uca from Central and North America. Digital recordings were used to quantify the temporal dynamics of waving behaviour in each species. Multivariate ordination methods were used to assess whether different elements of the display showed distinct evolutionary dynamics, particularly with respect to body size and the environment where species are most commonly found. Most of the interspecific variation in displays involves differences in the overall waving velocity, with no correspondence to their local environments, nor their body size. Interestingly, despite the strong concentration of variance in the first two ordination axes, there was no statistically significant evidence for phylogenetic signals in their respective scores. These results suggest that the overall structure of waving displays is evolutionarily labile, at the same time as being concentrated in a few particular axes of variation, possibly indicating evolution along lines of least resistance. The approach employed in the present study highlights the utility of phylogenetic comparative methods for elucidating the evolution of complex behavioural characteristics, such as the waving display in male fiddler crabs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-315
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2012


  • Courtship
  • Phylogenetic comparative methods
  • Territoriality


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