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The invasive red swamp crayfish as a predictor of Eurasian bittern density in the Camargue, France


Brigitte Poulin, Station Biologique de la Tour du Valat, Le Sambuc, 13200 Arles, France.


Few data exist on the relationships between food levels and breeding density of the Eurasian bittern Botaurus stellaris, a vulnerable species of high-priority concern in Europe. Concurrent data were obtained on male bittern density and relative food abundance over a 3-year period in two wetlands totalling 2500 ha of Mediterranean reed marsh enclosing 25% of the French bittern population. Food abundance was estimated by sampling up to 25 hydrological units using a beach seine in early June of 2002, 2003 and 2004. The density of booming males in each hydrological unit was obtained by point counts and acoustic triangulation in May of the same years. The impact of food abundance on male bittern density was assessed by general regression models using a forward stepwise procedure with mosquitofish Gambusia affinis, carp Cyprinus carpio, other fish species, amphibians, red swamp crayfish Procambarus clarkii and other invertebrates as prey groups. Of these, only to crayfish abundance was bittern density related, contributing to 45% of the variance observed. When the impact of water level was taken into account, the relative abundance of crayfish explained 56% of the inter-annual differences in bittern density. Because crayfish are rich in calcium and well adapted to fluctuating hydroperiods alternating with drought intervals, they provide a good food source for the bitterns throughout the breeding season at the study sites. The loss of diversity and degradation reported from macrophyte-dominated marshes following crayfish invasion does not seem to apply to reed-dominated wetlands. It is further suggested that the recent increase in bittern numbers in the Camargue, while other French populations were decreasing, could in part be related to red swamp crayfish abundance.

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