The reproductive behavior of Uca spp. has been extensively studied, especially the relationships between the dimorphically enlarged male claw and reproductive success. In contrast, little is known about the apparent congregations of adult males in marsh areas lacking vegetative cover where they engage in behaviors thought to attract mates. Similar congregations and displays in avian and mammalian species are termed 'leks.' In order to test the hypothesis that open-area assemblages of Uca spp. are functioning as leks, we examined the sex ratios, juvenile/adult ratios, and the percentage of time that adult males spend eliciting reproductive behaviors within open and vegetated areas of marsh habitats. Moreover, to evaluate whether differences in sediment-based food resources could explain open-area aggregations, we compared substratum organic content of open and vegetated areas of marsh habitats. Substrate was also examined to determine if grain size composition varied between open and vegetated areas and might preclude the construction of breeding burrows in vegetated areas of the marsh. Three species of Uca from four marsh habitats in biogeographically distinct regions of North America were sampled including Dauphin Island, Alabama, Hunting Island, South Carolina, Saxis, Virginia, and Wallops Island, Virginia. Comparisons of male/female and juvenile/adult ratio means indicated that greater numbers of adult males occurred in open areas of all marshes. In addition, adult males allocated significantly greater time to reproductive behaviors in open rather than in vegetatively covered areas across-all biogeographic regions and among all species. Food levels (sediment organic content) in open areas were equal to or less than sediment organic contents in vegetated areas in marsh habitats at Dauphin Island and Hunting Island, the two marshes where the variable was examined. Similarly, substratum granulometry analysis revealed no significant differences between open and vegetatively covered areas of the marshes at Dauphin Island or Hunting Island that might influence choice of burrow location. Collectively, these observations support the hypothesis that lek behavior is an integral component of the reproductive repertoire in Uca spp. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.