Combined per-capita and abundance effects of an invasive species on native invertebrate diversity and a key ecosystem process
- Invasive alien species (IAS) are leading to the homogenisation of taxonomic and functional biodiversity, with negative consequences for key ecosystem processes in fresh water. Invasive signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) is expected to disrupt detritus-based food webs by affecting leaf breakdown and/or by decreasing invertebrate density and diversity through predation. The combination of per-capita and abundance effects of P. leniusculus in invaded ecosystems is still largely unknown.
- A four-week field experiment was established in Rabaçal and Tuela Rivers (NE Portugal) to assess effects of P. leniusculus on invertebrate taxonomic and functional diversity and leaf litter breakdown following a gradient of invasion. We controlled the presence and absence of crayfish by placing the animals and leaf litter inside cages at six sites (three sites per river) according to the crayfish in situ abundance (absent, low, high). Cages were covered with coarse- or fine-mesh net to allow or prevent invertebrates from accessing the leaves.
- Results showed that higher crayfish in situ abundance led to a decrease in abundance, richness and Shannon diversity of invertebrates and to changes in the communities’ structures. Higher crayfish abundance led also to a decrease in invertebrate functional redundancy and an increase in the percentage of invertebrate taxa with resistance forms. Leaf litter breakdown increased with crayfish presence and decreased at sites with higher crayfish abundance.
- Overall, signal crayfish changed the community structure of invertebrates, with potential severe long-term effects on native communities and leaf litter breakdown. Given the widespread distribution of signal crayfish (and other crayfish species), their ecological impacts should be assessed carefully, especially in pristine freshwater ecosystems such as those described here.