Faculty Publications

Minuca Panema (Coelho, 1972): Resurrection of a Fiddler Crab Species from Brazil Closely Related to Minuca Burgersi (Holthuis, 1967) (Crustacea, Decapoda, Brachyura, Ocypodidae)

Document Type



16S rDNA, 28S rDNA, Biogeography, Cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI), Morphology

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Zoological Studies




We redescribe a species of fiddler crab, Minuca panema (Coelho, 1972), from the Atlantic coast of South America. It is closely related to M. mordax (Smith, 1870), and until now, the taxon has been considered to be synonymous with another closely related species Minuca burgersi (Holthuis, 1967). However, we found that two clades of M. burgersi sensu lato were restricted to the Caribbean Basin. This distribution differs from than that of M. panema, which occurs primarily along the eastern coast of South America, ranging from the island of Trinidad to Praia da Armação, Santa Catarina, Brazil. Based on our field studies, the geographical boundary between M. burgersi sensu stricto and M. panema is the Tobago Basin, north of Trinidad. Since the two species diverged only 3 to 4 million years ago, as dated from the phylogeny of the genus Minuca Bott 1954, there are few reliable morphological features that can be used to distinguish them clearly. In live crabs, there is a striking difference in coloration between the cherry-red South American M. panema and the rusty-red Caribbean M. burgersi sensu lato. In males, the pattern of tubercles on the inner surface of the major cheliped varies between the two species. In females, the vulva is slightly larger in M. burgersi sensu stricto. Ocean tides and currents together with siltation owing to freshwater outflow from the Amazon and Orinoco rivers most likely have driven the divergence of these species. In the Caribbean, small tidal amplitudes have minimized long-distance gene flow in M. burgersi sensu stricto from isolated insular lagoons. In contrast, large tidal amplitudes and exposed habitats on riverbanks along the eastern Atlantic coast of South America have enabled long-distance dispersal in M. panema. DNA analysis reveals that haplotypes of cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 are not shared between the species. Since natural selection and/or genetic drift have yet to produce extensive morphological divergences between M. panema and M. burgersi sensu stricto, we speculate that changes in the genes regulating mitochondrial DNA functions have led to speciation at the molecular level. According to the mitonuclear compatibility concept, we propose that mitochondrial DNA may be at the forefront of speciation events and that co-evolved mitonuclear interactions are responsible for some of the earliest genetic incompatibilities arising among isolated populations.


Department of Biology

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