Skip to main content

The new threat to Italian inland waters from the alien crayfish “gang”: the Australian Cherax destructor Clark, 1936


Biological invasions inflict damage to the ecology, economy, and human health, and pose serious threats to the native communities. Among the many invasive taxa, crayfish have attracted much attention by scientists and policy makers. Recently, an established population of an alien species of crayfish, new for Italy, was found in the Natural Preserve of “Laghi di Ninfa” (central Italy). Based on morphological and genetic evidence (molecular barcoding of COI and 16S rDNA), we classified it at subspecies level as the Parastacidae Cherax destructor destructor, native to Australia. Its introduction possibly occurred at the end of the 1980s but the species seems to be still confined in the preserve. The low temperature of the adjacent waters may be a barrier against its natural spreading but not against its intentional translocation into natural waters by man. Because of the invasive history of C. destructor, eradication of this population is urgent and still economically profitable.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  • Austin, C. M., 1996. Systematics of the freshwater crayfish genus Cherax Erichson (Decapoda: Parastacidae) in northern and eastern Australia: electrophoretic and morphological variation. Australian Journal of Zoology 44: 259–296.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Austin, C. M. & B. Knott, 1996. Systematics of the freshwater crayfish genus Cherax (Decapoda: Parastacidae) in south-western Australia: electrophoretic, morphological, and habitat variation. Australian Journal of Zoology 44: 223–258.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Austin, C. M., T. T. T. Nguyen, M. Meewan & D. R. Jerry, 2003. The taxonomy and phylogeny of the ‘Cherax destructor’ complex (Decapoda: Parastacidae) examined using mitochondrial 16S sequences. Australian Journal of Zoology 51: 99–100.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Chiesa, S., 2009. Assessment of genetic differentiation in Italian populations of Austropotamobius pallipes species complex: taxonomic and management implications. PhD Thesis, University of Roma Tre: 49.

  • Dawnay, N., R. Ogden, R. McEwing, G. R. Carvalho & R. S. Thorpe, 2007. Validation of the barcoding gene COI for use in forensic genetic species identification. Forensic Science International 173: 1–6.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Elvey, W., A. M. M. Richardson & L. Barmuta, 1996. Interactions between the introduced yabby, Cherax destructor, and the endemic crayfish, Astacopsis franklinii, in Tasmanian streams. Freshwater Crayfish 11: 349–363.

    Google Scholar 

  • Folmer, O., M. Black, W. Hoeh, R. Lutz & R. Vrijenhoek, 1994. DNA primers for amplification of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I from diverse metazoan invertebrates. Molecular Marine Biology and Biotechnology 5: 294–299.

    Google Scholar 

  • Genovesi, P., 2005. Eradications of invasive alien species in Europe: a review. Biological Invasions 7: 127–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gherardi, F., 2007a. Biological invasions in inland waters: an overview. In Gherardi, F. (ed.), Biological Invaders in Inland Waters: Profiles, Distribution, and Threats. Invading Nature: Springer Series in Invasion Ecology, Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: 3–25.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Gherardi, F., 2007b. 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, The Netherlands: 507–542.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Gherardi, F. & D.M. Holdich (ed.), 1999. Crayfish in Europe as Alien Species. How to Make the Best of a Bad Situation? A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam: XI + 299.

  • Gherardi, F., L. Aquiloni, E. Tricarico & M. Morpurgo, 2008a. Süsswasserkrebse In Italien. In Füreder, L. (ed.), Flusskrebse: Biologie – Ökologie – Gefährdung.: Veröffentlichung des Naturmuseums Südtirol Nr. 6 - Folio Verlag, Wien-Bozen: 53–65.

  • Gherardi, F., S. Bertolino, M. Bodon, S. Casellato, S. Cianfanelli, M. Ferraguti, E. Lori, G. Mura, A. Nocita, N. Riccardi, G. Rossetti, E. Rota, R. Scalera, S. Zerunian & E. Tricarico, 2008b. Animal xenodiversity in Italian inland waters: distribution, modes of arrival, and pathways. Biological Invasions 10: 435–454.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Horwitz, P., 1990. The translocation of freshwater crayfish in Australia: potential impact, the need for control and global relevance. Biological Conservation 54: 291–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lodge, D. M., C. A. Taylor, D. M. Holdich & J. Skurdal, 2000. Nonindigenous crayfishes threaten North American freshwater biodiversity: lessons from Europe. Fisheries 25: 7–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mack, R. N., D. Simberloff, W. M. Lonsdale, H. Evans, M. Clout & F. A. Bazzaz, 2000. Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecological Applications 10: 689–710.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Manchester, S. J. & J. M. Bullock, 2000. The impacts of non-native species on UK biodiversity and the effectiveness of control. Journal of Applied Ecology 37: 845–864.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Munasinghe, D. H. N., C. P. Burridge & C. M. Austin, 2004a. Molecular phylogeny and zoogeography of the freshwater crayfish of the genus Cherax (Decapoda: Parastacidae) in Australia. Biological Journal of Linnean Society 81: 553–563.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Munasinghe, D. H. N., C. P. Burridge & C. M. Austin, 2004b. The systematic of freshwater crayfish of the genus Cherax Erichson (Decapoda: Parastacidae) in eastern Australia: re-examined using nucleotide sequences from 12S rRNA and 16S rRNA genes. Invertebrate Systematics 18: 215–225.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Nguyen, T. T. T., 2005. A genetic investigation on translocation of Australian commercial freshwater crayfish, Cherax destructor. Aquatic Living Resources 18: 319–323.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nguyen, T. T. T. & C. M. Austin, 2005. Phylogeny of the Australian freshwater crayfish Cherax destructor-complex (Decapoda: Parastacidae) inferred from four mitochondrial gene regions. Invertebrate Systematics 19(3): 209–216.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Nguyen, T. T. T., C. M. Austin, M. M. Meewan, M. B. Schultz & D. R. Jerry, 2004. Phylogeography of the freshwater crayfish Cherax destructor Clark (Parastacidae) in inland Australia: historical fragmentation and recent range expansion. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 83: 539–550.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pimentel, D., R. Zuniga & D. Morrison, 2005. Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics 52: 273–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Piper, L.R., 2000. Potential for expansion of the freshwater crayfish industry in Australia. RIRDC Publication No 00/142. Rural Industry Research and Development Corporation, CSIRO Livestock Industry, Armidale, NSW.

  • Ricciardi, A. & J. B. Rasmussen, 1999. Extinction rates of North American freshwater fauna. Conservation Biology 13: 1220–1222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodríguez, C. F., E. Bécares, M. Fernández-Aláez & C. Fernández-Aláez, 2005. Loss of diversity and degradation of wetlands as a result of introducing exotic crayfish. Biological Invasions 7: 75–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sala, O. E., F. S. Chapin III, J. J. Armesto, E. Berlow, J. Bloomfield, R. Dirzo, E. Huber-Sannwald, L. Huenneke, R. B. Jackson, A. Kinzig, R. Leemans, D. M. Lodge, H. A. Mooney, M. Oesterheld, N. L. Poff, M. T. Sykes, B. H. Walker, M. Walker & D. H. Wall, 2000. Biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287: 1770–1774.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Souty-Grosset, C., D.M. Holdich, P.Y. Noël, J.D. Reynolds, P. Haffner, 2006. Atlas of Crayfish in Europe. Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Patrimoines naturels 64, Paris.

  • Thompson, J. D., T. J. Gibson, F. Plewniak, F. Jeanmougin & D. G. Higgins, 1997. The CLUSTAL_X windows interface: flexible strategies for multiple sequence alignment aided by quality analysis tools. Nucleic Acids Research 25: 4876–4882.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Tricarico, E., L. Vilizzi, F. Gherardi & G. H. Copp, 2009. Calibration of FI-ISK, an invasiveness screening tool for non-indigenous freshwater invertebrates. Risk Analysis (in press).

  • Trontelj, P., Y. Machino & B. Sket, 2005. Phylogenetic and phylogeographic relationships in the crayfish genus Austropotamobius inferred from mithocondrial COI gene sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 34: 212–226.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are indebted to Dr. Andrea Monaco (ARP, Lazio), Dr Lauro Marchetti, and the staff of the “Caetani” Association for the logistic support during the study within the Natural Monument of “Laghi di Ninfa.” The work by F. G. has been conducted within the PASAL project (financed by A.R.P., Lazio). The academic Spin off “Gen-Tech” of the University of Parma also contributed to the research.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francesco Nonnis Marzano.

Additional information

Handling editor: Pierluigi Viaroli

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


Cherax destructor destructor, in the Natural Preserve “Laghi di Ninfa” (A) and at the entrance of a burrow (B). (PDF 86 kb)


The study area in the Preserve “Laghi di Ninfa” (A); one of five abandoned cultivation pond inhabited by Cherax destructor destructor (B). (PDF 73 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Scalici, M., Chiesa, S., Gherardi, F. et al. The new threat to Italian inland waters from the alien crayfish “gang”: the Australian Cherax destructor Clark, 1936. Hydrobiologia 632, 341–345 (2009).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Biological invasions
  • Alien crayfish species
  • Parastacidae
  • Barcoding
  • COI mtDNA
  • Italy