Thursday, January 6, 2011
January 6, 2011 : Signal Crayfish
The signal crayfish, Pacifastacus leniusculus, is a North American species of crayfish. It was introduced to Europe in the 1960s to supplement the Scandinavian Astacus astacus fisheries, which were being damaged by crayfish plague, but the imports turned out to be a carrier of that disease. The signal crayfish is now an invasive species, ousting native species across Europe and Japan.
From 1907, crayfish plague, an infectious disease caused by the water mould Aphanomyces astaci, damaged stocks of the native European crayfish Astacus astacus. Since the signal crayfish occupied a similar ecological niche in its native range, it was imported in the 1960s to Sweden and Finland to allow recreational and commercial crayfish capture. It was not realised at the time that the signal crayfish was a carrier of the crayfish plague. All American species carry the infection, but it is only lethal to individuals that are already stressed; to European species, the infection is rapidly fatal.
The signal crayfish is now the most widespread alien crayfish in Europe, occurring in 25 countries, from Finland to Great Britain and from Spain to Greece. It was first introduced to Great Britain in 1976, and is now widespread across the island as far north as the Moray Firth. It has also been observed on the Isle of Man, but has not yet been introduced to Ireland.