Morphological diversity and phenotypic plasticity in the threatened British white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes)


A. Dunn, Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK. E-mail:


  1. Relocation of threatened populations is a common method employed in conservation. However, environmental differences in the new habitat may reduce the survival of relocated populations, while phenotypic plasticity may enhance the likelihood of establishment of relocated populations in their novel environment.
  2. Conservation of the British white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes; IUCN Red Data List – Endangered) often involves relocation of threatened populations into isolated ponds (Ark Sites), where risk of competition with invasive crayfish is minimized.
  3. In this study, the morphology (using 12 morphometric variables) of A. pallipes in wild populations was investigated with respect to eco-geographic variables. A field cage experiment was carried out to compare the relative survival, growth, and change in morphology of crayfish from lotic (stream) and lentic (pond) donor habitats following relocation to a lentic recipient habitat.
  4. In the wild, lentic crayfish were broader than their lotic counterparts, which may reflect an increase in branchial (gill) volume in adaptation to an oxygen-poor benthic environment.
  5. In the relocation experiment there was no difference in the length, growth, or survival of animals from relocated lentic, lotic, or control populations. However, crayfish derived from a lotic population showed an increase in carapace width and areola width over the 4-month growing season following relocation.
  6. This evidence for phenotypic plasticity suggests that crayfish are resilient to relocation, and that they can adapt morphologically to novel environmental conditions. Relocation of threatened populations of A. pallipes may therefore prove a useful technique in the conservation of white-clawed crayfish populations within the UK. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.