Why freshwater critters like crayfish are so fascinating

Hi everyone! I’m incredibly excited and I figured I would use this first post to provide a bit of background on myself, what I’m hoping to get out of this research project, and why freshwater critters like crayfish are so fascinating!

Brian trying to ID a tiny juvenile

I was born and raised in Ohio, and have been interested in the natural world my entire life. I grew up hiking, kayaking, and climbing, and knew that I wanted to have a career that would allow me to explore nature and to help conserve the land that I was recreating in. This led me to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ohio State, but it wasn’t until I lucked into a lab research job studying stream ecology that I found my passion for the animals that call the freshwater their home. 

Of course, like every little kid, I had spent time growing up playing in creeks and knew about some of the weird things that you could find in streams. But it wasn’t until I started really spending time doing biological surveys that I discovered how much beauty and diversity lies under the water. That’s why I decided to come all the way down to the southeast for graduate school; I wanted to be in an area that harbored a large diversity of organisms, and that’s exactly what Georgia has.

While Ohio is home to roughly 20 crayfish species, Georgia is home to over 70 (!), the 4th most in the U.S. behind Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. This incredibly high diversity is due to a lot of different things, but one of the main reasons is that crayfish often have very specific and restricted ranges, whether due to geographic barriers or very specific life history traits that allow them to only occupy very specific areas. If you’re interested in learning more about some of the biodiversity of Georgia crayfishes, Georgia DNR has amazing resources for experts and amateurs alike.

Procambarus pubescens (Brushnose Crayfish) from Magnolia Springs

One of these species that has a very specific range is the Ogeechee Crayfish, or Procambarus petersi. Found only in the Ogeechee and Canoochee basins, very little is known about P. petersi beyond the fact that it is a stream-dwelling crayfish. What I hope to do with this project is to better understand this species range within the basin, what its habitat preferences are, and how it interacts with other species within its habitat. 

Next month, we will start doing some of our first surveys of the basin, and hopefully start catching some petersi to show everyone! I’ll also dive into why conservation of aquatic organisms matters in the first place, and what specific roles crayfish play within aquatic ecosystems. 

– Brian Bush, ORK Fellow

RELEASE: First research fellow at ORK starts crayfish project

Ogeechee Riverkeeper
Contact: Meaghan Gerard, Communications and Administrative Director

The annual fellowship will provide research opportunities in the watershed

Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) has launched a new research fellowship to be filled each year. In 2022, the ORK Research Fellow is Brian Bush, a first-year graduate student at Georgia Southern University, pursuing a master’s degree in biology. The fellowship is underwritten by investments secured from the 2011 fish kill settlement. 

“We are excited to launch this annual fellowship,” said Damon Mullis, executive director and riverkeeper of ORK. “Research is important to our mission to protect the waterways in our basin. This fellowship will spur more interest in our basin and result in more academic research projects.  We are excited to have this initiative to further our mission.”

Photo by Chris Lukhaup

The Ogeechee River Basin is home to 16 different native crayfish species, including Procambarus petersi, an endemic species commonly called the Ogeechee Crayfish. The project aims to document riverine crayfish populations and distribution, with a focus on P. petersi, and provide education and outreach opportunities throughout the watershed. Throughout the fellowship, Bush will be sharing blog posts and photos of his time in the field and in the lab.

Brian Bush

Bush will lead the research project with the supervision of Checo Colón-Gaud, Ph.D., professor of biology and associate dean of the Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies at Georgia Southern University. Bush earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from The Ohio State University, with Honors Research Distinction from the School of Environment and Natural Resources. During his time at Ohio State, Bush conducted research with Dr. Mažeika Sullivan in the stream and river ecology laboratory. After graduation, Bush worked for the Nevada Bureau of Land Management, conducting stream surveys in northern Nevada and southern Idaho.

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 22 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.


PDF – Press Release – 2022 Research Fellowship