, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 49-73

Impact of an introduced Crustacean on the trophic webs of Mediterranean wetlands

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Abstract

Based on a review and our own data, we present an overview of the ecological impacts on the trophic web of Mediterranean wetlands by an introduced Decapod Crustacean, the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii). P. clarkii lacks efficient dispersal mechanisms but is very well adapted to the ecological conditions of Mediterranean wetlands (fluctuating hydroperiods with regular intervals of drought). As an opportunistic, omnivorous species, which adapts its ecology and life history characteristics, such as timing and size at reproduction to changing environmental conditions, it became readily established in most of the Mediterranean wetland environments. High reproductive output, short development time and a flexible feeding strategy are responsible for its success as an invader. Like most crayfish, it occupies a keystone position in the trophic web of the invaded system and interacts strongly with various trophic levels. It efficiently grazes on macrophytes and is one of the main factors, besides the impact of flamingos, cattle and introduced fish, of the change of many water bodies from a macrophyte dominated, clear water equilibrium to a phytoplankton driven turbid water balance. Juveniles feed on protein rich animal food with the corresponding impact on the macroinvertebrate community in competition with other crayfish or fish species. At the same time, it serves as a prey for mammals, birds and fish. Due to its predatory and grazing activity, it efficiently canalises energy pathways reducing food web complexity and structure. Feeding also on detritus it opens, especially in marshlands, the detritic food chain to higher trophic levels which results in an increase of crayfish predators. As a vector of diseases, it has a severe impact on the preservation and reintroduction of native crayfish. P. clarkii accumulates heavy metals and other pollutants in its organs and body tissues and transmits them to higher trophic levels. Due to the long history of its presence, the complex interactions it established within the invaded ecosystems and the socio-economic benefits it provides to humans, prevention and control seem the most promising management measures to reduce the negative impact of this crayfish species.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.