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