Conservation Biology

Understanding the Causes of Disease in European Freshwater Crayfish

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Courtesy of Conservation Biology

Abstract: Native European freshwater crayfish (Astacida, Decapoda) are under severe pressure from habitat alteration, the introduction of nonindigenous species, and epizootic disease. Crayfish plague, an acute disease of freshwater crayfish caused by the fungus-like agent Aphanomyces astaci, was introduced into Europe in the mid-nineteenth century and is responsible for ongoing widespread epizootic mortality in native European populations. We reviewed recent developments and current practices in the field of crayfish pathology. The severity of crayfish plague has resulted in an overemphasis on it. Diagnostic methods for detecting fungi and fungal-like agents, and sometimes culturing them, are frequently the sole techniques used to investigate disease outbreaks in European freshwater crayfish. Consequently, the causes of a significant proportion of outbreaks are undetermined. Pathogen groups well known for causing disease in other crustaceans, such as viruses and rickettsia-like organisms, are poorly understood or unknown in European freshwater crayfish. Moreover, the pathogenic significance of some long-known pathogens of European freshwater crayfish remains obscure. For effective management of this culturally significant and threatened resource, there is an urgent need for researchers, diagnosticians, and resource managers to address the issue of disease in European freshwater crayfish from a broader perspective than has been applied previously.

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