Effects of Local Adaptation of Invasion Success: A Case Study of Rhithropanopeus harrisii



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A major trend in invasion biology is the development of models to accurately predict and define invasive species and the stages of their invasions. These models focus on a given species with an assumed set of traits. By doing so, they fail to consider the potential for differential success among different source populations. This study looked at the inland invasion of Rhithropanopeus harrisii in the context of a current invasion model. This species has been introduced worldwide, but has only invaded freshwater reservoirs within the state of Texas (United States) indicating a potential difference amongst source populations. Previous studies indicate that this species should not be capable of invading inland reservoirs due to physiological constraints in the larvae. A more recent study gives evidence to the contrary. To investigate whether the inland populations are in fact successfully established, I attempted to answer the following questions: Can inland populations successfully reproduce in the inland reservoirs and rivers? If so, what factors in the native environment could have led to the evolution of this ability? What are the impacts of this species in the inland reservoirs and what is its potential spread? I combined a larval developmental study, conspecific and heterospecific crab competition trials, field collections, gut content analysis, shelter competition trials with crayfish, and larval and adult dispersal study to answer these questions.

I showed that Rhithropanopeus harrisii is established in the inland reservoirs and capable of spreading. I demonstrated that in the native populations along the Gulf coast of the United States, this species is the least aggressive and is therefore likely excluded into lower salinity waters during reproductive periods. This likely led to a lowered salinity tolerance in the larval stages, which predispose these populations to successful introductions in inland freshwater bodies. I showed that the crabs are capable of outcompeting juvenile crayfish for shelter at high densities and therefore warrant management in order to reduce their effect. This study indicates a need for the invasion models to take the source population into account in order to ensure effective and prudent management strategies.