Size-mediated, density-dependent cannibalism in the signal crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus (Dana, 1852) (Decapoda, Astacidea), an invasive crayfish in Britain

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The role of cannibalism in crayfish populations is not well understood, despite being a potentially key density-dependent process underpinning population dynamics. We studied the incidence of cannibalism in an introduced signal crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus population in a Scottish lowland river in September 2014. Animals were sampled using six different sampling techniques simultaneously, revealing variable densities and size distributions across the site. Cannibalism prevalence was estimated by analysing the gut contents of crayfish >20 mm CL for the presence of crayfish fragments, which was found to be 20% of dissected individuals. When seeking evidence of relationships between the sizes of cannibals and ‘prey’, the density of conspecifics <56% the size of a dissected individual yielded the best fit. The relationship between cannibalism probability and crayfish size and density was equally well described by three different metrics of crayfish density. Cannibalism increased with crayfish size and density but did not vary according to sex. These results suggest that large P. leniusculus frequently cannibalize smaller (prey) conspecifics, and that the probability of cannibalism is dependent upon the relative size of cannibal-to-prey and the density of the smaller crayfish. We suggest that removing large individuals, as targeted by many traditional removal techniques, may lead to reduced cannibalism and therefore a compensatory increase in juvenile survival.

Crustaceana

International Journal of Crustacean Research

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References

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Figures

  • A, size frequency distribution of carapace length (mm) for all crayfish captured from the Geddes Burn site; B, the catch number of small (<30 mm CL) and large (>30 mm CL) crayfish from downstream (section A) to upstream (section H); C, the proportion of substrate composition and mean midstream depths of each section from A-H.

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  • Likelihood profile of prey density with varying predator to prey size relationships. The black plots indicate AIC scores within two units of the lowest AIC score.

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  • A, the back-transformed effect of log(smaller prey density) on cannibalism probability taken from model 1; B, the effect of individual carapace length on cannibalism probability taken from model 2; C, the back-transformed effect of log(small crayfish density) on cannibalism probability taken from model 2; D, the effect of individual carapace length on cannibalism probability taken from model 3; E, the back-transformed effect of log(total crayfish density) on cannibalism probability taken from model 3; F, the effect of small crayfish density on cannibalism probability taken from model 4. The shaded area indicates 95% confidence intervals.

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  • A, Correlation between minnow trap and refuge trap catch number; B, correlation between minnow trap and cylindrical net trap catch number; C, correlation between refuge trap and cylindrical net trap catch number; D, correlation between electrofishing and microhabitat trap catch number; E, correlation between electrofishing and kick sampling catch number; F, correlation between microhabitat trap and kick sampling catch number.

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  • A, Correlation between mean minnow trap captured crayfish size (CL) and water depth; B, correlation between mean refuge trap captured crayfish size (CL) and water depth; C, correlation between mean cylindrical net trap captured crayfish size (CL) and water depth; D, correlation between mean electrofishing captured crayfish size (CL) and water depth; E, correlation between mean kick sampling captured crayfish size (CL) and water depth; F, correlation between mean habitat trap captured crayfish size (CL) and water depth.

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