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Biological Bulletin


The horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus spawns in the mid- to upper intertidal zone where females deposit eggs in nests below the sediment surface. Although adult crabs generally inhabit subtidal regions of estuaries with salinities from 5 to 34 ppt, developing embryos and larvae within nests are often exposed to more extreme conditions of salinity and temperature during summer spawning periods. To test whether these conditions have a negative impact on early development and survival, we determined development time, survival, and molt cycle duration for L. polyphemus embryos and larvae raised at 20 combinations of salinity (range: 30-60 ppt) and temperature (range: 25-40°C). Additionally, the effect of hyperosmotic and hypoosmotic shock on the osmolarity of the perivitelline fluid of embryos was determined at salinities between 5 and 90 ppt. The embryos completed their development and molted at salinities below 60 ppt, yet failed to develop at temperatures of 35°C or higher. Larval survival was high at salinities of 10-70 ppt but declined significantly at more extreme salinities (i.e., 5, 80, and 90 ppt). Perivitelline fluid remained nearly isoosmotic over the range of salinities tested. Results indicate that temperature and salinity influence the rate of crab development, but only the extremes of these conditions have an effect on survival.

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