Native European crayfish Astacus astacus competitive in staged confrontation with the invasive crayfish Faxonius limosus and Procambarus acutus.
The European native, noble crayfish (Astacus astacus) has suffered from a serious and long term population decline due to habitat destruction, water pollution and the impact of the invasive North American crayfish that are carriers of the crayfish plague (Aphanomyces astaci). The latter being the major factor currently confining noble crayfish to uninvaded (parts of) waterbodies. However, recently wild populations of apparently healthy noble crayfish carrying the crayfish plague have been found. As crayfish are known for their inter- and intraspecific agonistic behaviour which may be key for their competitive success, this raised the interesting question what would happen if the crayfish plague would not be a dominant factor anymore in the interaction between native and invasive species. Since the outcome of those encounters is still unclear, this study explores whether the noble crayfish can stand its ground towards invasive species in such agonistic interactions. Furthermore, the ability of the noble crayfish and invasive crayfish to acquire shelter through agonistic interaction is also assessed. Through pairwise staged interactions, agonistic behaviour and shelter competition between the native A. astacus and the invasive Faxonius limosus and Procambarus acutus were examined. The results showed that A. astacus triumphs over F. limosus and P. acutus in agonistic encounters and in competition for shelter. In turn, P. acutus dominates F. limosus in staged encounters and shelter. In possible future situations were crayfish plague does no longer eradicate noble crayfish populations, our results show that the native noble crayfish might still have a promising future when confronted with invasive species.