Mountain Lake Revisited: Impacts of Invasion on Native Symbiotic Systems


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Virginia Tech


Organismal invasions have repeatedly been cited as both a driving force behind global change and beneficiaries of that change. Although many drivers of these invasions have been well studied, few studies have addressed invasions through the perspective of native symbiont communities. In the Mountain Lake region of Virginia, crayfish host diverse assemblages of obligate cleaning symbionts known as branchiobdellida. This cleaning symbiosis has been found to result in significant fitness benefits for native crayfish. Historical survey work showed that invasive crayfish, known to be intolerant of symbionts, were introduced into the region by the 1960s. I carried out an extensive regional survey to determine how this invasion has progressed and what impacts it is having on the native crayfish-branchiobdellida symbiosis. Survey results show that invasive crayfish have successfully spread throughout the region, resulting in the displacement of native crayfish. Additionally, findings suggest that invasion results in significantly reductions in abundance and richness in native symbiont communities. To determine mechanisms contributing to observed impacts on native symbionts, I carried out a study that simulated displacement of native crayfish by invasive crayfish in a controlled setting. This study found that as native crayfish are increasingly displaced by invasive crayfish, both symbiont dispersal and survival are negatively affected. This potential loss of symbiosis caused by invasion may reduce symbionts on native crayfish below abundances necessary for fitness benefits, exacerbating the negative impacts of invasions and presenting a major conservation issue in invaded systems.



invasive species, symbiosis, crayfish