1. Many fish stocks have declined, because of overharvesting, habitat destruction and introduced species. Despite efforts to rehabilitate some of these stocks, not all are responding or are recovering only slowly.
2. In freshwater systems, introduced crayfish are often problematic, and it has been suggested that their egg predation could reduce recruitment in depleted stocks of native fish.
3. Here, we report the results of a field experiment, using experimental cages, on the extent of predation on eggs of great Arctic charr (Salvelinus umbla) in Lake Vättern, Europe’s fifth largest lake. Here, the great Arctic charr has declined dramatically and is listed as critically endangered.
4. We were able to partition the total loss rate of eggs into background mortality, predation by introduced signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) and predation by native fish. The mortality rate of charr eggs because of crayfish was estimated at more than five times that because of native fish. Of the total loss of eggs, 80% is believed to be caused by crayfish and 14% by fish, with 6% being natural background mortality.
5. In a worst case scenario, our data infer that only 25% of the original number of eggs would survive, compared with 75% in the absence of crayfish. This could impair recovery of the stock of the endangered great Arctic charr in Lake Vättern.
6. Contrary to earlier claims that crayfish predation on eggs of great Arctic charr is insignificant, our results indicate that crayfish predation may exceed fish predation and suggest that the abundance of signal crayfish on the spawning sites of great Arctic charr should be managed.