The smell of danger: chemical recognition of fish predators by the invasive crayfish Procambarus clarkii
Harper, David M
Mavuti, Kenneth M
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Since avoiding predation can compromise animal fitness, prey are expected to respond to different predator species with an intensity appropriate to the level of risk. In fresh waters, the threat of predation is typically assessed by chemical cues, in particular by odours released by either injured/disturbed conspecifics (conspecific alarm odour) or predators (predator odours). Here, we used the most widely distributed crayfish in the world, the invasive North American Procambarus clarkii, to investigate the relative effectiveness of odours emitted by fish predators compared with conspecific alarm odour. We also tested whether P. clarkii is able to discriminate between fish predators of which it has ‘experience’ (either recent, via introduction to the same water body, or old, by sharing a native range), as well as between fish predators that pose low or high risk. The study was carried out on introduced populations of P. clarkii from two sites, characterised by different fish assemblages: the Malewa River (a tributary of Lake Naivasha, Kenya) and Lake Trasimeno (Italy). Laboratory experiments consisted of three sequential phases (‘water’, ‘food’ and ‘smell’ phases) and five treatments. Treatments differed in the odour presented during the smell phase, i.e. no odour (plain water) and odours from either injured conspecifics or three fish species per site. Crayfish from the Malewa River population were confronted with the odours of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and tilapia (Tilapia zillii) (all introduced to Lake Naivasha but absent from the Malewa River), and those from the Lake Trasimeno population with the odours of the introduced largemouth bass and carp and the native chub (Squalius cephalus). Largemouth bass is the only predator that imposes a high risk to crayfish, and it also shares its native range with P. clarkii. We analysed the time spent by crayfish feeding, in locomotion and in adopting a raised or lowered posture. A reduction in the time spent feeding and in locomotion, and an increase in the time spent in the lowered posture were considered to indicate alarm. Crayfish from both populations responded with a more pronounced reduction in feeding to conspecific alarm odour rather than to predator odours. Crayfish from the Malewa River reacted with the same intensity to the odours of the three fish species tested, whereas, in Lake Trasimeno, the odour of largemouth bass was significantly more threatening than the odours of the other two species. Procambarus clarkii seems to perceive a general fish odour that alerts it to possible predation risk without the need of either a direct recent experience or via sharing a common native range. However, where they coexist with fish, crayfish become able to distinguish among species, adapting the intensity of their response to the effective risk. Our results confirm the relatively high learning capacity of P. clarkii reported in previous studies and suggest the existence of mechanisms that make predator recognition particularly efficient in this extraordinarily successful invader.