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Ecologists expect that the marbled crayfish could become a successful invasive species in the Netherlands. This it the main outcome of a new scientific publication in Scientific Reports by researchers from University of Amsterdam and Naturalis, who have recorded the characteristics of the various species of crayfish found in the Netherlands.

Marbled crayfish (Credits: Bram Koese, EIS Kenniscentrum Insecten)

The arrival of non-indigenous species can have negative consequences for our biodiversity and economy. They could eat all the aquatic plants in a system, which in turn leads to poor water quality. They also dig holes that can damage river banks. Farmers can lose land as a result.

Knowledges on about the functional characteristics of species can help to predict the risks of non-indigenous species becoming invasive. A recent study conducted by the UvA Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics and Naturalis Biodiversity Center examined thirteen different characteristics of fifteen species of crayfish that occur in the wild or are traded in the Netherlands, six of which are successful invasive species.

Why invasive species are so successful

A comparison of the characteristics of all species revealed that the distinguishing characteristics for successful and unsuccessful invasive species are mainly: a broad environmental tolerance, originating from a temperate climate in the native range, a high migration capacity, and producing many eggs several times per year or making use of asexual reproduction.

Whether a newcomer has any chance of being successful in the Netherlands, depends on its characteristics. Species that are already used to a temperate climate in their native habitat find it easier to live here, and species that can reproduce faster - especially if they can do that asexually, and/or several times per year - spread faster over a new area. Being able to cope well with different environments also helps: tolerating slightly less oxygen or a somewhat higher salinity of the water, for example.

Red swamp crayfish (Credits: Bram Koese, EIS Kenniscentrum Insecten)

Different species have different characteristics

Not all successful invasive species have the same characteristics. For example, the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) produces many offspring, migrates over long distances and exhibits aggressive behaviour: in 2017 the police in Leidschendam had to ask people to stop calling about the 'scorpions' on the street. The spinycheek crayfish (Faxonius limosus) is adapted to a colder climate, can reproduce asexually, and has a broad environmental tolerance.

Knowledge about the characteristics of species can help to predict the risks of non-indigenous species becoming invasive. Based on this research, we expect that the marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) could become a next successful invasive species in the Netherlands. This species suddenly emerged in the German aquarium trade in the 1990s and has already been spotted in the Netherlands in the wild.

Publication details

Tiedo van Kuijk, Jacobus C. Biesmeijer, Berry B. van der Hoorn and Piet F. M. Verdonschot: ‘Functional traits explain crayfish invasive success in the Netherlands,’ in Scientific Reports 11, 2772 (2021). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-82302-4

Contact person

Prof. dr. ir. P.F.M. (Piet) Verdonschot

Special Chair Wetland Restoration Ecology