Further Insights into Invasion: Field Observations of Behavioural Interactions between an Invasive and Critically Endangered Freshwater Crayfish Using Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV)

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Competitive behavioural interactions between invasive and native freshwater crayfish are recognised as a key underlying mechanism behind the displacement of natives by invaders. However, in situ investigations into behavioural interactions between invasive and native crayfish are scarce. In Australian freshwater systems, the invasive Cherax destructor has spread into the ranges of many native Euastacus species, including the critically endangered Euastacus dharawalus. Staged contests between the two species in a laboratory setting found E. dharawalus to be the dominant competitor, however, this has yet to be corroborated in situ. Here, we used baited remote underwater video (BRUV) to examine in situ intra- and inter-specific behavioural interactions between E. dharawalus and C. destructor. We sought to evaluate patterns of dominance and differential contest dynamics between the species to provide indications of competition between the two species. We found E. dharawalus to be dominant over C. destructor based on pooled interspecific interaction data and size-grouped interactions where C. destructor was the smaller opponent. Alarmingly, however, when C. destructor was within a 10% size difference the dominance of E. dharawalus was lost, contrasting with the outcomes of the laboratory-staged study. In addition, we report that small C. destructor initiated significantly more contests than larger conspecifics and larger E. dharawalus, a pattern that was not observed in smaller E. dharawalus. Further, intraspecific interactions between C. destructor were significantly longer in duration than intraspecific interactions between E. dharawalus, indicating a willingness to continue fighting. Concerningly, these outcomes point towards inherent and greater aggressiveness in C. destructor relative to E. dharawalus and that only larger E. dharawalus hold a competitive advantage over C. destructor. Therefore, we conclude that C. destructor represents a substantial threat to E. dharawalus through competitive behavioural interactions. Further, due to the disparity between our findings and those produced from laboratory-staged contests, we recommend the use of in situ studies when determining the behavioural impacts of invasive crayfish on natives.

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