First indication of Japanese mitten crabs in Europe and cryptic genetic diversity of invasive Chinese mitten crabs.
The Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is a prominent aquatic invader with substantial negative economic and environmental impacts. The aim of the present study was to re-evaluate the genetic diversity of mitten crabs throughout their native and invaded ranges based on publicly available sequence data, and assess if multiple introductions or rapid adaptation could be responsible for biologically divergent mitten crabs in Northern Europe. We assembled available genetic data of a fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit one gene (COI) for all species of the genus Eriocheir. We applied phylogenetic and population genetic analyses to compare native and invasive populations, and to identify possible source populations. The phylogenetic reconstruction revealed that five COI sequences from Europe, morphologically identified as Chinese mitten crab, actually belong to the Japanese mitten crab (Eriocheir japonica), representing the first indication of its presence in European waters. All other COI sequences from Europe could unambiguously be assigned to the Chinese mitten crab. In some Northern German populations of Chinese mitten crabs, genetic diversity was surprisingly high, due to seven unique haplotypes encoding several amino acid substitutions. This diversity may reflect a cryptic introduction from an unsampled native location, or rapid adaptation in the invaded range. Based on the genetic diversity shared between native and introduced range, Feiyunjiang, a tributary of the Yangtze River, emerges as a plausible source population for the original introduction of Chinese mitten crabs to Europe. This study highlights the complex and dynamic invasion processes of mitten crabs in Europe. We urge to further monitor mitten crab invasions using genetic tools.