Contrasting effects of an invasive crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) on two temperate stream communities.
The effects of omnivorous exotic species on native communities are often difficult to predict because of the broad diets and behavioural flexibility of the omnivore, and the diverse abiotic and biotic characteristics of invaded systems. We investigated experimentally the effects of a gradient of density of the introduced, omnivorous red swamp crayfish Procambarus clarkii (Decapoda: Cambaridae) on two stream communities in southern California, U.S.A. The Ventura River is a clear, flowing stream with a cobble substratum, with abundant algae but low densities of large invertebrates, small herbivores and snails. The Santa Ynez River at the time of the study consisted of a series of drying pools underlain by sand, with abundant charophytes, large predatory invertebrates and herbivores, including snails. In the Ventura River, periphyton biomass and inorganic sediment decreased with increasing crayfish abundance, but in the Santa Ynez River, periphyton and sediment were unrelated to crayfish densities. In the Ventura River, the biomass and density of all benthic invertebrates combined, chironomids, micropredators, the meiofauna (chydorid cladocerans, copepods and ostracods), and specific predatory and herbivorous taxa, as well as taxon richness, were negatively related to crayfish density. In the Santa Ynez River, the biomass and average body size of benthic invertebrates, predatory invertebrates, herbivores and chironomids, but not total invertebrate density or taxon richness, were negatively related to crayfish density. Fewer large predatory invertebrates and snails (Physella gyrina) in both streams, and baetid mayflies in the Ventura River, were visible at night in channels where crayfish were abundant. Snails responded to crayfish by moving above the water line in the Santa Ynez River, but not in the Ventura River. We suggest that the same omnivore had different effects on these neighbouring streams because of crayfish predation on large invertebrates in the Santa Ynez River and the scarcity of such prey in the Ventura River, leading to increased crayfish grazing on periphyton, and reductions in periphyton-associated invertebrates, in the Ventura River.