CIE Spotlight: Genetic analyses reveal limited dispersal and recovery potential in the large freshwater crayfish (Euastacus armatus) from the southern Murray–Darling Basin

Adam M.

Authors: Nick S. Whiterod, Sylvia Zukowski, Martin Asmus, Dean Gilligan and Adam D. Miller

Source: MARINE AND FRESHWATER RESEARCH, 68 (2):213-225, Published online: 18 March 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Understanding dispersal traits and adaptive potential is critically important when assessing the vulnerability of freshwater species in highly modified ecosystems.

The present study investigates the population genetic structure of the Murray crayfish Euastacus armatus in the southern Murray–Darling Basin. This species has suffered significant population declines in sections of the Murray River in recent years, prompting the need for information on natural recruitment processes to help guide conservation.

We assessed allele frequencies from 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci across 20 sites encompassing the majority of the species’ range. Low levels of gene flow were observed throughout hydrologically connected waterways, but significant spatial autocorrelation and low migration rate estimates reflect local genetic structuring and dispersal limitations, with home ranges limited to distances <50-km.

Significant genetic differentiation of headwater populations upstream of barriers imposed by impoundments were also observed; however, population simulations demonstrate that these patterns likely reflect historical limitations to gene flow rather than contemporary anthropogenic impacts. Dispersal limitations, coupled with its biological traits, suggest that local populations are vulnerable to environmental disturbance with limited potential for natural recolonisation following population decline.

We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of managing the recovery of the species.