The native crayfish suffers from two parasites; plague, which is carried by the American invader, as well as porcelain disease which makes the native crayfish sluggish and suppresses their appetite before eventually killing them a few years later.
Yorkshire is one of the last strongholds of the white-clawed crayfish, which is being driven out of Britain's waterways by its hardier American cousin, introduced to Britain in the 1970s for fish farming. The advance of the signal crayfish over its native rival has implications for the biodiversity of Britain's rivers as the diversity of prey is reduced and the invaders' appetite for fish eggs causes a decline in the fish population.
Although the white-clawed crayfish is listed as an endangered species in Britain, the reasons for its decline and the American species' success have not been well understood. Now, researchers from the University of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences have been trying to work out why the signal crayfish has been gaining the upper hand, and how this information might be used in conservation projects.
Their study, published in the online journal PLoS One, compares how quickly the two different species deal with food. The American signal crayfish ate up to 83 per cent more food per day than did their native cousins. The research also showed that white-clawed crayfish are much more choosy about what they eat, preferring particular types of prey, while the signals eat equal amounts of all prey. The white-clawed crayfish are also affected by a common parasite, porcelain disease, which affects their ability to catch prey, leading affected crayfish to eat 30% less. The American signal crayfish, on the other hand, seem unaffected by the parasite.
Dr Alison Dunn, of the Faculty of Biological Sciences, at the University of Leeds, who led the study, explains: "The signals eat much more compared with the native crayfish. But the situation is exacerbated by a parasite which essentially changes the native's behaviour - the white-clawed crayfish can't eat or handle as much food as the signal, because the parasite weakens its muscles."
"The huge appetites of the signal crayfish can have a massive effect on the whole ecosystem," adds Dr Dunn. "In particular it affects biodiversity because there is a reduction in the numbers of prey. In some Yorkshire rivers, for example, the fish population has declined because signal crayfish are eating large numbers of fish eggs."
Dr Dunn believes studying the effects of parasites on host species can offer vital clues about species conservation.
"Parasites are a fascinating and vital part of any ecosystem and you have to consider their effects when looking at biological invasions," she says. "We hope our findings will help us make predictions about how this invader might spread and help with management strategies."
Humans too can play a part in protecting the white-clawed crayfish by understanding how invading species spread. The signal crayfish is able to move overland of its own accord, but may also be inadvertently moved around in, for example, damp fishing gear.
"We need to be much more careful about how we move animals and plants around from habitat to habitat, and raise public awareness about these issues," says Dr Dunn.
The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, in partnership with the Environment Agency. It is one of many projects run by the Yorkshire Dales Environment Network www.yden.leeds.ac.uk , set up to care for and manage the Yorkshire Dales.
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
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Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000
Jessica Kwok, Royal Society (Nov 2016), £14,948
John Ladbury, Cancer Research UK (Oct 2016), £4,250
Miriam Wittmann, Martin Stacey, Edward Vital, Lupus UK
(Oct 2016), £34,010
Valerie Speirs, NC3Rs
(Oct 2016), £90,000
Nicola Stonehouse, Morgan Herod, David Rowlands, BBSRC
(Sep 2016), £436,424
Joseph Cockburn, Wellcome Trust
(Sep 2016), £100,000
John Barr, Public Health England
(Sep 2016), £94,471
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products A/S
(Sep 2016), £54,680
Steven Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd
(Sep 2016), £39,285
Juan Fontana Jordan De Urries
, Royal Society
(Sep 2016), £21,793
Jing Li, Sarah Calaghan, Mark Drinkhill, British Heart Foundation
(Sep 2016), £117,585
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £457,216
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, An-Jung Chen, David Westhead, NC3Rs
(Sep 2016), £354,456
Glyn Hemsworth, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £1,024,034
David Jayne, Paul Millner, MRC (Aug 2016), £207,860
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Aug 2016), £457,215
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, Dave Westhead, An-Jung Chen, NC3Rs (Aug 2016), £354,456
Peter Henderson, EU - European Union
EU - European Union
(Jul 2016), £123,897
Adrian Goldman, EU - European Union
(Jul 2016), £116,290
Urwin, Howard Atkinson, NERC
(Jul 2016), £105,053
Eileen Ingham and colleagues in Engineering and M&H, EPSRC (Jul 2016), £3,867,449
Michael Colman, MRC (Jul 2016), £200,956
Tim Benton, Fresca Group Ltd
(Jul 2016), £52,082