A central focus of invasive species research has been on human efforts to eradicate invaders or reduce their abundance to mitigate the worst of their impacts. In some cases, however, populations of invasive species decline without human intervention, which may inform management responses to these invaders. Such is the case of the invasive rusty crayfish (Faxonius rusticus) in northern Wisconsin, USA, where systematic population monitoring since 1975 has revealed population declines in approximately half of the lakes surveyed. Population declines of invasive species without human intervention remain understudied, but there is even less research on how communities respond following such declines. Using 10 lakes in Vilas County, Wisconsin, we investigated community recovery of habitat (macrophytes) and prey (freshwater snails) of F. rusticus following up to 33 years of declines of this invader in some lakes using a dataset with a rare, long-term span over which consistent data were collected (1987, 2002, 2011, and 2020). We compared community responses in lakes where F. rusticus populations reached a peak and subsequently declined (boom-bust lakes) and lakes where our dataset only captured the decline of F. rusticus (bust lakes) to reference lakes with consistently high or low crayfish abundance over time. We found partial recovery of macrophytes and snails in the bust and boom-bust lakes where F. rusticus has declined, with recovery of macrophyte abundance and richness in the boom-bust lakes achieving levels observed in the low-crayfish reference lakes. Snail abundance and richness increased after declines of F. rusticus, though not to the level of the low-crayfish reference lakes, suggesting that snail recovery may lag macrophyte recovery because snails are dependent on macrophytes and associated periphyton for habitat. The recovery we document potentially represents long-term ecosystem resilience of lakes to biological invasions. Our results suggest that lake communities may recover without active restoration interventions after invasive crayfish population declines, although identifying which lakes experience these natural declines remains a priority for future research and management.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Early online date||Feb 11 2023|
|State||Published - Apr 2023|
- alien species
- exotic species
- aquatic macrophyte