Invasion of an occupied niche by the crayfish Orconectes rusticus: potential importance of growth and mortality
We are exploring mechanisms of an invasion that contradicts the oft-cited generalization that species invade vacant niches. In northern Wisconsin lakes, the introduced crayfish Orconectes rusticus is replacing two ecologically similar resident congeners, O. virilis and O. propinquus. In laboratory experiments, we compared growth and mortality of individually maintained crayfish offered one of five ad libitum diets: invertebrates, macrophytes, dentritus, periphyton or all items combined. Mortality was highest for O. virilis and lowest for O. rusticus. Macrophyte diets yielded the highest mortality. All three species grew best on invertebrate and combination diets but grew little or not at all on diets of periphyton, detritus or macrophytes. O. rusticus and O. virilis grew more than O. propinquus. O. rusticus grew more quickly and/or was better able to survive overall than its congeners. Therefore, O. rusticus would probably have advantages over O. virilis and O. propinquus in competitive interactions, reproductive success and avoiding size-selective fish predation. Subtle interspecific differences may interact strongly with other ecological factors and contribute to the displacement of resident species from a well-occupied niche.