crayfish, agonistic behavior, intraspecific aggression


Marine Biology


Agonistic behavior is a fundamental aspect of ecological theories on resource acquisition and sexual selection.

Crustaceans are exemplary models for agonistic behavior within the laboratory, but agonistic behavior in natural habitats is often neglected. Laboratory studies do not achieve the same ecological realism as field studies. In an attempt to connect laboratory results to field data and investigate how habitat structure affects agonistic interactions, the nocturnal behavior of two crayfish species was observed by scuba diving and snorkeling in two northern Michigan lakes. Intraspecific agonistic interactions were analyzed in three habitats: two food resources—macrophytes and detritus—and one sheltered habitat. The overall observations reinforce the concept that resources influence agonistic bouts. Fights in the presence of shelters were longer and more intense, suggesting that shelters have a higher perceived value than food resources. Fights in the presence of detritus patches had higher average intensities and ended with more tailflips away from an opponent, suggesting that detritus was a more valuable food resource than macrophytes. In addition, observations of aggressive behavior within a natural setting can add validity to laboratory studies. When fights in nature are compared with laboratory fights, those in nature are shorter, less intense, and less likely to end with a tailflip, but do show the fundamental fight dynamics associated with laboratory studies. Extrinsic and intrinsic factors affect intraspecific aggression in many ways, and both should always be recognized as having the potential to alter agonistic behavior.

Original Citation

Bergman, D. A., & Moore, P. A. (2003). Field Observations of Intraspecific Agonistic Behavior of Two Crayfish Species, Orconectes rusticus and Orconectes virilis, in Different Habitats. The Biological Bulletin, 205(1), 26–35.