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Size-mediated, density-dependent cannibalism in the signal crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus (Dana, 1852) (Decapoda, Astacidea), an invasive crayfish in Britain

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The role of cannibalism in crayfish populations is not well understood, despite being a potentially key density-dependent process underpinning population dynamics. We studied the incidence of cannibalism in an introduced signal crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus population in a Scottish lowland river in September 2014. Animals were sampled using six different sampling techniques simultaneously, revealing variable densities and size distributions across the site. Cannibalism prevalence was estimated by analysing the gut contents of crayfish >20 mm CL for the presence of crayfish fragments, which was found to be 20% of dissected individuals. When seeking evidence of relationships between the sizes of cannibals and ‘prey’, the density of conspecifics <56% the size of a dissected individual yielded the best fit. The relationship between cannibalism probability and crayfish size and density was equally well described by three different metrics of crayfish density. Cannibalism increased with crayfish size and density but did not vary according to sex. These results suggest that large P. leniusculus frequently cannibalize smaller (prey) conspecifics, and that the probability of cannibalism is dependent upon the relative size of cannibal-to-prey and the density of the smaller crayfish. We suggest that removing large individuals, as targeted by many traditional removal techniques, may lead to reduced cannibalism and therefore a compensatory increase in juvenile survival.

Affiliations: 1: School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Zoology Building, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, U.K.

1Corresponding author; e-mail:

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