1. Crayfish are among the most threatened taxa in the world and invasive crayfish are the primary cause of the decline of native crayfish. Most research has emphasised biotic interactions as the mechanism by which native crayfish are displaced by invasives, although crayfish occupy variable environments and the role of disturbance in facilitating crayfish invasion and displacement is understudied.
2. We compared tolerance to a disturbance, stream drying, in a native and invasive crayfish as a potential mechanism to explain their distribution. Our experiments and observations were conducted across scales, from laboratory environmental chambers to stream mesocosms to field sampling. We hypothesised that the invasive crayfish would be more tolerant of desiccation than the native, and that this physiological distinction between the two would be reflected in their distribution in relation to stream drying.
3. In the laboratory, the native crayfish Orconectes eupunctus was less tolerant of desiccation than the invasive Orconectes neglectus chaenodactylus, with all native crayfish dying within 2 days without water, while some of the invasive crayfish survived for nearly 2 weeks. Under simulated stream drying in mesocosms, only the native O. eupunctus survived less well than in a control. Field sampling demonstrated a significant negative relationship between O. eupunctus density and low summer flows, while O. neglectus density was positively associated with low summer flows. The greater resistance of O. neglectus to drying could, through priority effects, inhibit recolonisation by O. eupunctus once flow resumes.
4. Abiotic disturbances are potentially important to the displacement of native by invasive crayfish. Disturbance mediated displacement of aquatic species provides both an opportunity to conserve native species by maintaining or restoring habitat and disturbance regimes and is also a challenge due to increasing human water demand, flow regime alteration and global climate change.