Indirect Effects of Omnivorous Crayfish on Semiarid Stream Macroinvertebrate Communities Mediated by Novel Riparian Vegetation
Novel resource inputs represent an increasingly common phenomenon in ecological systems as global change alters environmental factors and species distributions. In semiarid riparian areas, hydric pioneer tree species are being replaced by drought-tolerant species as water availability decreases. Additionally, introduced omnivorous crayfish, which feed upon primary producers, allochthonous detritus, and benthic invertebrates, can impact communities at multiple levels through both direct and indirect effects. In arid and semiarid systems of the American Southwest, crayfish may be especially important as detrital processors due to the lack of specialized detritivores. I tested the impact of virile crayfish (Orconectes virilis) on benthic invertebrates and detrital resources across a gradient of riparian vegetation drought-tolerance using field cages with leaf litter bags in the San Pedro River in Southeastern Arizona. Virile crayfish increased breakdown rate of drought-tolerant saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima), but did not impact breakdown of Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii), Gooding's willow (Salix goodingii), or seepwillow (Baccharis salicifolia). The density and composition of the invertebrate community colonizing leaf litter bags were both heavily influenced by litter species but not directly by crayfish presence. As drought-tolerant species become more abundant in riparian zones, their litter will become a larger component of the organic matter budget of desert streams. By increasing breakdown rates of saltcedar, crayfish shift the composition of leaf litter in streams, which in turn may affect the composition and biomass of colonizing invertebrate communities. More research is needed to determine the full extent to which these alterations change community composition over time.