Stable isotopes, mesocosms and gut content analysis demonstrate trophic differences in two invasive decapod crustacea


Deborah Rudnick, Integral Consulting, Inc. 7900 SE 28th Street, Ste 300. Mercer Island, WA 98040, U.S.A.


1. Improving our understanding of dietary differences among omnivorous, benthic crustacea can help to define the scope of their trophic influence in benthic food webs. In this study, we examined the trophic ecology of two non-native decapod crustaceans, the Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) (CMC) and the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) (RSC), in the San Francisco Bay ecosystem to describe their food web impacts and explore whether these species are functionally equivalent in their impacts on aquatic benthic communities.

2. We used multiple methods to maximise resolution of the diet of these species, including N and C stable isotope analysis of field data, controlled feeding experiments to estimate isotopic fractionation, mesocosm experiments, and gut content analysis (GCA).

3. In experimental enclosures, both CMC and RSC caused significant declines in terrestrially derived plant detritus (P < 0.01) and algae (P < 0.02) relative to controls, and declines in densities of the caddisfly Gumaga nigricula by >50% relative to controls.

4. Plant material dominated gut contents of both species, but several sediment-dwelling invertebrate taxa were also found. GCA and mesocosm results indicate that CMC feed predominantly on surface-dwelling invertebrates, suggesting that trophic impacts of this species could include a shift in invertebrate community composition towards sediment-dwelling taxa.

5. Stable isotope analysis supported a stronger relationship between CMC and both algae and algal-associated invertebrates than with allochthonous plant materials, while RSC was more closely aligned with terrestrially derived detritus.

6. The trophic ecology and life histories of these two invasive species translate into important differences in potential impacts on aquatic food webs. Our results suggest that the CMC differs from the RSC in exerting new pressures on autochthonous food sources and shallow-dwelling invertebrates. The crab's wide-ranging foraging techniques, use of intertidal habitat, and migration out of freshwater at sexual maturity increases the distribution of the impacts of this important invasive species.