Goncalves, V., Gherardi, F. & Rebelo, R. (2017) Bivalve or gastropod? Using profitability estimates to predict prey choice by P. clarkii.Acta Ethologica, 20(2), 107-117. DOI:10.1007/s10211-017-0251-x (IF2016 1,417; Q2 Zoology)
Recently, a highly invasive alien species, the zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha, has colonized Italian aquatic ecosystems that had been previously colonized by another highly invasive alien species—the North American crayfish Procambarus clarkii. This was the first time and world region where these two species met. To evaluate the relative importance of their interactions, we studied prey selection according to its length, as well as prey choice by P. clarkii preying on D. polymorpha in the presence and absence of alternative prey—the freshwater snail Physella acuta. We followed an optimability-based approach, by first estimating the most profitable length of each mollusc and then by conducting a prey choice experiment, on which both species were provided simultaneously to a crayfish with different size combinations. Prey selection was dependent on prey length, handling time and crayfish length for both molluscs. According to our profitability estimates, snails should be more profitable than mussels in the length range 7–10 mm, while for lengths over 11.0 mm, mussels should be more profitable. The results of the prey choice experiment indicated that D. polymorpha length, P. acuta length, and the difference in profitability between the offered individuals were all relevant for the choice of one species over the other by P. clarkii. However, the overall tendency was the choice of the smallest prey, regardless of species, and the estimates of prey profitability were not useful to predict prey choice. Our study shows that D. polymorpha represents a novel prey resource for P. clarkii, even in the presence of an alternative prey, and that zebra mussels may be a preferred prey, especially small-sized individuals (5–10 mm).