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Invasive crayfish as drivers of fine sediment dynamics in rivers: field and laboratory evidence

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Gemma L Harvey
  • Alexander James Henshaw
  • Tom P Moorhouse
  • Nicholas J Clifford
  • Helen Holah
  • Jonathan Grey
  • David W. Macdonald
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>02/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number2
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)259-271
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date24/10/13
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Despite increasing recognition of the potential of aquatic biota to act as ‘geomorphic agents’, key knowledge gaps exist in relation to biotic drivers of fine sediment dynamics at microscales and particularly the role of invasive species. This study explores the impacts of invasive signal crayfish on suspended sediment dynamics at the patch scale through laboratory and field study. Three hypotheses are presented and tested: (1) that signal crayfish generate pulses of fine sediment mobilisation through burrowing and movement that are detectable in the flow field; (2) that such pulses may be more frequent during nocturnal periods when signal crayfish are known to be most active; and (3) that cumulatively the pulses would be sufficient to drive an overall increase in turbidity. Laboratory mesocosm experiments were used to explore crayfish impacts on suspended sediment concentrations for two treatments: clay banks and clay bed substrate. For the field study, high frequency near-bed and mid-flow turbidity time series from a lowland river with known high densities of signal crayfish were examined. Laboratory data demonstrate the direct influence of signal crayfish on mobilisation of pulses of fine sediment through burrowing into banks and fine bed material, with evidence of enhanced activity levels around the mid-point of the nocturnal period. Similar patterns of pulsed fine sediment mobilisation identified under field conditions follow a clear nocturnal trend and appear capable of driving an increase in ambient turbidity levels. The findings indicate that signal crayfish have the potential to influence suspended sediment yields, with implications for morphological change, physical habitat quality and the transfer of nutrients and contaminants. This is particularly important given the spread of signal crayfish across Europe and their presence in extremely high densities in many catchments. Further process-based studies are required to develop a full understanding of impacts across a range of river styles.