Crayfish Research in the Big Thicket
By Mary Catherine Johnston, Past President, Big Thicket Association
Zachary Loughman, Ph.D., was invited by the Big Thicket Association to survey Texas crayfish fauna in the Big Thicket National Preserve as part of the Thicket of Diversity All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory. Loughman has extensive experience as an Associate Professor of Biology (Zoology and Ecology) at West Liberty University in West Virginia. His doctoral dissertation was on “Ecology, Conservation, and Taxonomy of West Virginia’s Crayfishes.”
Loughman has numerous published abstracts and oral presentations on crayfish and has developed environmental programs for all ages. His presentations are both informative and entertaining as he relates the challenges of research in mud.
Crayfish serve an important role as ecosystem engineers. They provide underground refuges for both aquatic and terrestrial organisms through their burrowing behavior. Economically they provide important forage for several game fish such as catfish and bass.
To date the Big Thicket National Preserve has not had a dedicated crayfish survey. In 1990 a survey by Horton Hobbs, Jr. documented 13 species in the Neches River basin, an unusually high number for any watershed nationally. Recent work by Dan Johnson in 2008, 2010 and 2011 in east Texas resulted in the documentation of 16 crayfish species in the Neches basin’s waterways. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s list of state imperiled species, 38% of the proposed crayfishes of the BTNP are currently tracked and considered at least species of special concern.
On Dr. Loughman’s first research trip to the Big Thicket he made time to speak with approximately 160 Kountze High School Biology and Environmental Science students. He introduced teens to the Thicket of Diversity project, Citizen Science and shared details on the importance of mud bugs in wetland ecosystems and the food web, and their anatomy and behavior.
The Big Thicket’s geographic placement makes its aquatic communities ripe for potentially high crayfish diversity. Results from the survey will serve as a foundation for conservation planners, as well as an opportunity to involve the general public in active science on preserve lands.
Funding for Loughman’s research on Crayfish was performed with penalty monies from a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality enforcement action.
Dr. Zachary Loughman examines Crayfish in Lance Rosier Unit, Big Thicket National PreserveShare on Twitter Share on Facebook