The importance of considering small-scale variability in macrobenthic distribution: spatial segregation between two fiddler crab species (genus Leptuca) (Decapoda, Ocypodidae)
ABSTRACT Defining the appropriate scale is important when trying to understand distribution patterns in community studies. Fiddler crabs are among the most common organisms inhabiting estuarine environments, and despite having a wide latitudinal distribution, are limited by shifts in temperature, current and wind pattern. Thus, many co-occur at a local scale, where their distribution is influenced by variables such as mean sediment grain diameter, salinity and tidal level. Our goal was to test intra and interspecific segregation in two similar and commonly co-occurring fiddler crabs species (Leptuca leptodactyla and Leptuca uruguayensis) at a small scale (10 m²). Interspecific segregation was observed, with L. leptodactyla occurring mainly at the upper level in relation to the water line and L. uruguayensis, at the lower. However, this pattern was irrespective of sex and developmental stage, as no intraspecific segregation was seen. Possible impacts of tidal level, soil silt/clay content and competition on interspecific segregation are discussed. Although L. leptodactyla and L. uruguayensis overlap in their occurrence when intertidal zonation is disregarded, they segregate when tidal levels are individually sampled as habitats. This highlights the importance of small-scale studies to identify patterns unobserved at regional scales, even when no environmental gradient is readily apparent.