Biological Invasions

, Volume 12, Issue 11, pp 3817–3824 | Cite as

Biological control of invasive populations of crayfish: the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) as a predator of Procambarus clarkii

  • Laura AquiloniEmail author
  • Sara Brusconi
  • Elena Cecchinelli
  • Elena Tricarico
  • Giuseppe Mazza
  • Annalisa Paglianti
  • Francesca Gherardi
Original Paper


The red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, is a paradigmatic invader of freshwater systems. Several attempts have been made to mitigate its multiple impacts but none was successful. Among the different methods proposed, the use of the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) as an indigenous predator is promising but the available information about its predatory ability on crayfish is to date scanty. To fill this gap in knowledge, we ran three experiments in wetlands and irrigation ditches in Italy. The first experiment, in the laboratory, was aimed at quantifying the extent of predation by eels on crayfish, the second, in enclosures, the size classes of crayfish mainly preyed and the possible effect of the eels on P. clarkii behaviour, and the third, in the field, its ability to effectively reduce crayfish populations. Results showed that eels prey on small-sized or soft crayfish, attacking them from the back; an indirect effect was to reduce crayfish trophic activity, which in turn might increases crayfish mortality due to starvation and decreases impact on the community. However, as shown in the field, the use of eels should be appropriately calibrated to the context of application. Taken together, our results show that eels might be used as a complement to the traditional trapping method. However, additional studies are necessary to understand the adequate number of eels to be introduced and to develop appropriate methods for quantifying such effects.


Invasive species Procambarus clarkii Anguilla anguilla Management Habitat conservation Predation by fish species 



Experiments 1 and 2 were financed by the Province of Pistoia (Tuscany) and Experiment 3 by Consorzio di Bonifica Parmigiana Moglia-Secchia (Emilia-Romagna). The authors thank Dr F. Fagnani (Province of Pistoia), Ing. P. Zanetti, Dr. M. Fantesini, and Dr. M.T. Giglioli (Consorzio di Bonifica Parmigiana Moglia-Secchia) for their constant help and encouragement.


  1. Aquiloni L, Gherardi F (2008) Evidence of female cryptic choice in crayfish. Biol Lett 4:163–165CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartolini A (2007) La Riserva Naturale del Padule di Fucecchio. Dieci anni di gestione (1996-2006). Quaderni del Padule di Fucecchio n. 4. Centro di Ricerca, Documentazione e Promozione del Padule di FucecchioGoogle Scholar
  3. Behrendt A (1987) Don’t let eels steal your stock. Fish Farmer (Sept/Oct), 50–51Google Scholar
  4. Blake MA, Hart PJB (1993) The behavioural responses of juvenile signal crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus to stimuli from perch and eels. Freshw Biol 29:89–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blake MA, Hart PJB (1995a) The vulnerability of juvenile signal crayfish to perch and eel predation. Freshw Biol 33:233–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blake MA, Hart PJB (1995b) Habitat preferences and survival of juveniles signal crayfish, Pacifastacus leniusculus—the influence of water depth, substratum, predatory fish and gravid female fish. Freshw Crayfish 9:318–332Google Scholar
  7. Butler MJ, Stein RA (1985) An analysis of the mechanisms governing species replacements in crayfish. Oecologia 66:168–177Google Scholar
  8. Capelli GM, Munjal BL (1982) Aggressive interactions and resource competition in relation to species displacement among crayfish of the genus Orconectes. J Crust Biol 2:486–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clavero M, García-Berthou E (2005) Invasive species are a leading cause of animal extinctions. Trends Ecol Evol 20:110CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Dekker W (2000) The fractal geometry of the European eel stock. ICES J Mar Sci 57:109–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dorn NJ, Wojdak JM (2004) The role of omnivorous crayfish in littoral communities. Oecologia 140:150–159CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Elvira B, Nicola GG, Almodovar A (1996) Pike and red swamp crayfish: a new case on predator-prey relationship between aliens in central Spain. J Fish Biol 48:437–446Google Scholar
  13. Frutiger A, Müller R (2002) Controlling unwanted Procambarus clarkii populations by fish predation. Freshw Crayfish 13:309–315Google Scholar
  14. Garvey JE, Stein RA, Thomas HM (1994) Assessing how fish predation and interspecific prey competition influence a crayfish assemblage. Ecology 75:532–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gherardi F (2006) Crayfish invading Europe: the case study of Procambarus clarkii. Invited review paper. Mar Freshw Behav Physiol 39:175–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gherardi F (2007) Understanding the impact of invasive crayfish. In: Gherardi F (ed) Biological invaders in inland waters: profiles, distribution, and threats. Invading Nature: springer series in invasion ecology. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 507–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gherardi F, Acquistapace P (2007) Invasive crayfish in Europe: the impact of Procambarus clarkii on the littoral community of a Mediterranean lake. Freshw Biol 52:1249–1259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gherardi F, Barbaresi S (2008) Feeding opportunism of the red swamp crayfish Procambarus clarkii, an invasive species. Freshw Crayfish 16:77–85Google Scholar
  19. Hamrin SF (1987) Seasonal crayfish activity as influenced by fluctuating water levels and presence of a fish predator. Holoartic Ecol 10:45–51Google Scholar
  20. Hartmann A, O’Neill D (1999) Fish predators and conspecifics influence molt location choice by red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii (Girard). Freshw Crayfish 12:244–251Google Scholar
  21. Hazlett BA, Acquistapace P, Gherardi F (2002) Differences in memory capabilities in invasive and native crayfish. J Crust Biol 22:439–448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hein CL, Roth BM, Ives AR, Vander Zanden MJ (2006) Fish predation and trapping for rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) control: a whole-lake experiment. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 63:383–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hein CL, Vander Zanden MJ, Magnuson JJ (2007) Intensive trapping and increased fish predation cause massive population decline of an invasive crayfish. Freshw Biol 52:1134–1146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hirvonen H, Holopainen S, Lempiäinen N, Selin M, Tulonen J (2007) Sniffing the trade-off: effects of eel odours on nocturnal foraging activity of native and introduced crayfish juveniles. Mar Freshw Behav Physiol 40:213–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hobbs HH (1989) An illustrated checklist of the American crayfishes (Decapoda: Astacidae, Cambaridae and Parastacidae). Smithson Contrib Zool 480:1–236Google Scholar
  26. Lodge DM, Kershner MW, Aloi JE, Covich AP (1994) Effects of an omnivorous crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) on a freshwater littoral food web. Ecology 75:1265–1281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Momot WT (1995) Redefining the role of crayfish in aquatic ecosystems. Rev Fish Sci 3:33–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Moriarty C, Dekker W (1997) Management of the European Eel. Fish Bull (Dublin) 15:110Google Scholar
  29. Nyström P (2002) Ecology. In: Holdich DM (ed) Biology of freshwater crayfish. Blackwell Science, Oxford, pp 192–235Google Scholar
  30. Nyström P, Brönmark C, Granéli W (1996) Patterns in benthic food webs: a role for omnivorous crayfish? Freshw Biol 36:631–646CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Owen SF (2001) Meeting energy budgets by modulation of behaviour and physiology in the eel (Anguilla anguilla L.). Comp Biochem Physiol A 128:631–644Google Scholar
  32. Owen SF, Houlihan DF, Rennie MJ, Van Weerd JH (1998) Bioenergetics and nitrogen balance of the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) fed at high and low ration levels. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 55:2365–2375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rach JJ, Bills TD (1989) Crayfish control with traps and largemouth bass. Progress Fish-Cult 51:157–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sala OE, Chapin FS III, Armesto JJ, Berlow R, Bloomfield J, Dirzo R, Huber-Sanwald E, Huenneke LF, Jackson RB, Kinzig A, Leemans R, Lodge D, Mooney HA, Oesterheld M, Poff NL, Sykes MT, Walker BH, Walker M, Wall DH (2000) Global biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287:1770–1774CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Scalici M, Gherardi F (2007) Structure and dynamic of an invasive population of the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) in a Mediterranean Wetland. Hydrobiologia 583:309–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1969) Biometry. Freeman, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  37. Stein RA (1977) Selective predation, optimal foraging, and the predator-prey interaction between fish and crayfish. Ecology 58:1237–1253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stein RA, Magnuson JJ (1976) Behavioral response of crayfish to a fish predator. Ecology 57:751–761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Svärdson G (1972) The predatory impact of eel (Anguilla anguilla L.) on populations of crayfish (Astacus astacus L.). Report- Institute of Freshwater Research. Drottningholm 52:149–191Google Scholar
  40. Vilà M, Basnou C, Pyšek P, Josefsson M, Genovesi P, Gollasch S, Nentwig W, Olenin S, Roques A, Roy D, Hulme PE, DAISIE partners (2009) How well do we understand the impacts of alien species on ecosystem services? a pan-European, cross-taxa assessment. Front Ecol Environ 8:135–144. doi: 10.1890/080083 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Aquiloni
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sara Brusconi
    • 1
  • Elena Cecchinelli
    • 1
  • Elena Tricarico
    • 1
  • Giuseppe Mazza
    • 1
  • Annalisa Paglianti
    • 1
  • Francesca Gherardi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

Personalised recommendations