Quaternary intertidal and supratidal crabs (Decapoda, Brachyura) from tropical America and the systematic affinities of fossil fiddler crabs
Concentrations of fully articulated crabs are rare in the fossil record, especially for terrestrial and semi-terrestrial taxa, which tend to be represented by scarce, fragmentary and poorly preserved fossils due to preservational biases. A newly discovered fossiliferous locality at Bahia Bique, west of Panama City, Panama, yielded a collection of supratidal, intertidal and shallow subtidal invertebrates and vertebrates of mid-Holocene age. Notable discoveries include the first fossils of the sally lightfoot crab Grapsus, the first for the land crab Cardisoma in the Eastern Pacific and, remarkably, the most complete and abundant collection of fossil fiddler crabs, Uca, yet discovered. The abundance and exceptional preservation of fossil male, female, juvenile and adult individuals of Uca aff. ornata in eroded burrow infills suggest that rapid entombment and early diagenesis were crucial for their preservation. The habitat preference of extant U. ornata for soft muds of open intertidal mudflats indicates that part of Bahía Bique must have been a large estuarine mudflat with close proximity to freshwater influx, in contrast to the present-day gravel field where the fossils are found as ex situ boulders, cobbles and gravel-sized clasts eroded from rocks of the poorly known Pacific Muck. We examine the systematic relationships of fossil fiddler crabs from Bahía Bique via synthetic and cladistic approaches, and conclude that they were from an extinct population of the extant Uca ornata. The fidelity of living–death assemblages between the Bique faunule and extant faunas of the tropical Eastern Pacific confirm the Quaternary age of the assemblage, and stimulate a detailed discussion of the preservation and palaeoecology of terrestrial and semi-terrestrial crabs in tropical assemblages.