1. Most European crayfish species are strongly threatened, mainly as a result of the introduced pathogen, Aphanomyces astaci, transmitted by invasive North American crayfish. Long-term coexistence of American and European crayfish species is therefore regarded as almost impossible, even though some coexisting populations have been observed.
2. In this study, crayfish were collected from presently coexisting populations of the introduced spiny-cheek crayfish (Orconectes limosus) and the native noble crayfish (Astacus astacus) from nine standing waters in central Europe. Our aim was to resolve whether the coexistence resulted from reduced virulence in local strains of A. astaci, increased immunity in the native crayfish or an absence of the pathogen in these populations. We used highly sensitive A. astaci-specific real-time PCR to evaluate the crayfish latent carrier status, combined with transmission experiments to further validate the molecular results.
3. From the total of 523 crayfish tested (490 spiny-cheek crayfish, 33 noble crayfish), none positive for A. astaci was detected. Transmission experiments confirmed these results: No abnormal mortality or behavioural changes were seen in noble crayfish kept together with American crayfish from the coexisting populations. If we assume a very low prevalence of A. astaci of 10% in a carrier population, there is a 98% probability of disease being absent in five of the nine coexisting populations tested. Hence, a consistent absence, or an extremely low prevalence, of A. astaci seems to allow the coexistence of European and American crayfish in these central European populations.
4. The results are important for native crayfish conservation and management and demonstrate that disease transmission risk may vary substantially between the different populations of spiny-cheek crayfish in central Europe.