Burrowing crayfish are potentially important ecological links between terrestrial and aquatic systems, but little is known about what drives their local distribution patterns. We investigated potential mechanisms underlying the patchy local distribution of the devil crayfish (Cambarus diogenes Girard) in a stream floodplain ecosystem of the coastal plain of Alabama. We used a series of field surveys and laboratory trials to: 1) quantify local distributions and soil-type associations, 2) identify soil preferences of juveniles and adults, 3) examine the effects of biotic (adult occupancy) and abiotic (soil compaction) factors on juvenile burrowing preferences, and 4) investigate the role of floodplain connectivity on burrow density. Juvenile crayfish were more abundant in sandy streamside soils, whereas adults were more abundant in clay-based floodplain soils. In laboratory preference trials in artificial burrowing chambers, adults and juveniles showed affinity for floodplain over streamside soils, a result suggesting that factors other than soil preference influence field patterns. When juveniles were presented with situations where adults were established, they initiated burrows in association with the adult burrows regardless of soil type. Soil compaction did not influence juvenile burrowing preference, but did result in smaller burrows in laboratory trials. Adult burrow density in the floodplain was negatively related to stream bank angle and top-of-bank height. Juvenile C. diogenes took longer to climb banks with high bank angles than those with low bank angles, a result suggesting increased risk of predation and desiccation associated with disconnected floodplain conditions. Local distribution of C. diogenes burrows in stream/floodplain systems appears to be a product of interacting physical and biological factors rather than of soil-type preferences. Stream–floodplain connectivity may affect recruitment and population viability of burrowing crayfish.
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