Rapidly growing trade of ornamental animals may represent an entry pathway for emerging pathogens; this may concern freshwater crayfish that are increasingly popular pets. Infected crayfish and contaminated water from aquaria may be released to open waters, thus endangering native crustacean fauna. We tested whether various non-European crayfish species available in the pet trade in Germany and the Czech Republic are carriers of two significant crustacean pathogens, the crayfish plague agent Aphanomyces astaci and the white spot syndrome virus (WSSV). The former infects primarily freshwater crayfish (causing substantial losses in native European species), the latter is particularly known for economic losses in shrimp aquacultures. We screened 242 individuals of 19 North American and Australasian crayfish taxa (the identity of which was validated by DNA barcoding) for these pathogens, using molecular methods recommended by the World Organisation for Animal Health. A. astaci DNA was detected in eight American and one Australian crayfish species, comprising in total 27 % of screened batches. Furthermore, viability of A. astaci was confirmed by its isolation to axenic cultures from three host taxa, including the parthenogenetic invader Marmorkrebs (Procambarus fallax f. virginalis). In contrast, WSSV was only confirmed in three individuals of Australian Cherax quadricarinatus. Despite modest prevalence of detected infections, our results demonstrate the potential of disease entry and spread through this pathway, and should be considered if any trade regulations are imposed. Our study highlights the need for screening for pathogens in the ornamental trade as one of the steps to prevent the transmission of emerging diseases to wildlife.
Keywords: aquarium trade • exotic pathogens • Aphanomyces astaci • white spot syndrome virus • Marmorkrebs • DNA barcoding