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Effects of Predation Threat on the Structure and Benefits from Vacancy Chains in the Hermit Crab Pagurus bernhardus

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Vacancy chains occur when individuals occupy discrete re-useable resource units, which once abandoned by the current owner can then be occupied by a new owner. In order to enter the newly vacated resource the new owner must first vacate its current resource unit, such that a vacancy chain consists of a series of linked moves between resource units of different value, equivalent to different ‘strata’ in the chain. Vacancy chains may represent an important route by which resources are distributed through populations. Indeed, the arrival of a new resource has the potential to initiate a series of moves propagating beyond the individual that encounters the new resource unit. Thus, the chain participants as a whole may experience ‘aggregate benefits’ from the arrival of the new resource unit. The extent of these benefits, however, may not necessarily be evenly distributed between all chain participants; some individuals could receive greater than average benefits by moving through more than one stratum (‘skipping’) and some individuals could experience a reduction in resource value by moving to a resource unit of lower quality than that occupied initially (a ‘backward move’). Such moves represent deviations from the ‘ideal’ vacancy chains assumed by theory. Here we analyse the aggregate benefits and benefits to individuals participating in vacancy chains of empty gastropod shells in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus. We also investigate the effect of predation risk on these two levels of benefits and on chain structure. Adding a new shell at the top of the chain causes an overall increase in shell quality after 24 h but the distribution of benefits between strata in the chain varies with the presence and absence of the predator cue. Although there was significant concordance between chain structure in the presence and absence of the predator cue, the structure was significantly different from an ideal vacancy chain in the absence but not the presence of the predator cue.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 November 2009

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