FCE LTER Journal Articles


Crayfish assemblage shifts in a large drought-prone wetland: the roles of hydrology and competition


1. Faster growing, larger and/or more aggressive crayfish species are predicted to dominate permanent waterbodies. We tested this prediction using a 9 year dataset for two species of crayfish (Procambarus alleni and Procambarus fallax) co-existing in a sub-tropical flowing slough in southern Florida. Using a series of laboratory and mesocosm experiments we also compared life history traits and performance of the respective species to test mechanisms that could explain dominance shifts in the local crayfish assemblages. 2. Over the 9-year period, P. alleni densities were the greatest in shallower, shorterhydroperiod areas bordering the slough, while P. fallax densities were higher in deeper, longer-hydroperiod central areas. These areas were separated by 0.8–2 km of continuous wetland with no apparent barriers to movement between them. 3. Density of P. fallax was not strongly affected by any measures of hydrological variation, while P. alleni density increased with more severe drought conditions. Following the strongest droughts, P. alleni colonized areas in the centre of the slough where they had been absent or scarce in wetter years. 4. We conducted experiments to compare growth rates, drought tolerance, and competitive dominance of these species. P. alleni survived drought conditions better, had higher growth rates, and was the dominant competitor for space and food. While drought probably limits P. fallax in the drier slough habitats, neither drought sensitivity nor interspecific competition with P. fallax can explain decreases of P. alleni with wetter conditions. 5. Our results indicate that a competition-colonization tradeoff cannot explain the crayfish compositional dynamics in this wetland because P. alleni is both the best competitor and the best at surviving in and colonizing areas with the strongest droughts. Future attention should focus on the potential for selective effects of predators that co-vary with hydrology. 6. The traits (large size, fast growth, competitive dominance) exhibited by P. alleni, which is absent in long-hydroperiod wetlands, are those exhibited by dominant crayfish in permanent lakes and streams containing fish. Although these traits make crayfish less vulnerable to fish in some lakes and streams, life-history models of community structure across permanence gradients suggest the opposite traits should be favoured for co-existence with fish.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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