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Early assessment of the impact of alien species: differential consequences of an invasive crayfish on adult and larval amphibians


Gentile Francesco Ficetola, Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Ambiente e del Territorio, Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca. Piazza della Scienza 1, 20126 Milano, Italy.


Aim  Early assessment of the impact of invasive alien species is crucial to set up timely management, but often the impact is evident when it is too late for action. We evaluated relationships between the alien crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, the distribution of native amphibians, and the abundance of their larvae. We assessed whether considering measures of reproductive success provide a more prompt measure of impact than considering just species distribution.

Location  One hundred and twenty-five wetlands in Northern Italy, in an area recently invaded by P. clarkii.

Methods  We surveyed wetlands to assess the presence of breeding activity of amphibians and the distribution of P. clarkii. We measured the abundance of amphibian larvae before metamorphosis through pipe sampling. We built models analysing the relationships between amphibian and crayfish distribution, while taking into account spatial autocorrelation and environmental features. Analyses were performed at both the species level (generalized linear models and spatial eigenvector mapping) and community level (constrained redundancy analysis).

Results  In terms of breeding site distribution, only two amphibians (Lissotriton vulgaris and Hyla intermedia) were negatively associated with P. clarkii, while the relationships between other the species and P. clarkii were positive or not significant. However, larval abundance for all amphibian species was negatively associated with the alien crayfish. Analyses performed at community and single species levels yielded consistent results.

Main conclusions Procambarus clarkii impacts amphibians through different processes. Newts probably avoid invaded wetlands for breeding. Other species attempt breeding in wetlands with crayfish, but suffer very low success. Considering distribution data alone would not provide a correct picture of the impact of this alien species; measures of reproductive success may allow a more accurate assessment of the impact.