The long-term effects of invasive signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) on instream macroinvertebrate communities

Non-native species represent a significant threat to indigenous biodiversity and ecosystem functioning worldwide. It is widely acknowledged that invasive crayfish species may be instrumental in modifying benthic invertebrate community structure, but there is limited knowledge regarding the temporal and spatial extent of these effects within lotic ecosystems. This study investigates the long term changes to benthic macroinvertebrate community composition following the invasion of signal crayfish, Pacifastacus leniusculus, into English rivers. Data from long-term monitoring sites on 7 rivers invaded by crayfish and 7 rivers where signal crayfish were absent throughout the record (control sites) were used to examine how invertebrate community composition and populations of individual taxa changed as a result of invasion. Following the detection of non-native crayfish, significant shifts in invertebrate community composition were observed at invaded sites compared to control sites. This pattern was strongest during autumn months but was also evident during spring surveys. The observed shifts in community composition following invasion were associated with reductions in the occurrence of ubiquitous Hirudinea species (Glossiphonia complanata and Erpobdella octoculata), Gastropoda (Radix spp.), Ephemeroptera (Caenis spp.), and Trichoptera (Hydropsyche spp.); although variations in specific taxa affected were evident between regions and seasons. Changes in community structure were persistent over time with no evidence of recovery, suggesting that crayfish invasions represent significant perturbations leading to permanent changes in benthic communities. The results provide fundamental knowledge regarding non-native crayfish invasions of lotic ecosystems required for the development of future management strategies.