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Federal funds will help efforts to protect endangered crayfish species in the coastal plain

In the northwestern United States, this crayfish would be just a friendly bit of local fauna. But in Scotland, it's an invasive species wreaking havoc on trout streams.
Ari Shapiro
/
NPR
File: In the northwestern United States, this crayfish would be just a friendly bit of local fauna. But in Scotland, it's an invasive species wreaking havoc on trout streams.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has received a major boost in its efforts to protect endangered crayfish species in the Tar Heel state’s coastal plain region.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded roughly $270,000 along with a non-federal match of nearly $90,000 to help the state’s Resources Commission evaluate crayfish.

Scientists will coordinate efforts with peer organizations in South Carolina and Georgia through a central hub across all three states. Much of those funds will support staff to conduct fieldwork and surveys to isolate trends — like population fluctuations —over time.

Assistant Chief of Inland Fisheries Rachael Hoch says crayfish across the southeast Atlantic slope face a number of threats: Habitat loss due to urbanization and development; and the resulting polluted water seeping downstream into the coastal plains on its way to the Atlantic.

"We’re also seeing effects of climate change," she said, "This area is going to be impacted by increasing sea level rise, increasing frequency of extreme weather events, storm surges, in addition to drought. And these droughts basically dry up the water table and we lose these really important wetlands for some of the crayfish."

Researchers will use genetic analysis to measure the diversity within each species, which she says is one major health indicator for specific populations. This information will guide their survey of another major threat: invasive species.

Hoch said, "Specifically, the red swamp crayfish which is a non-native crayfish to North Carolina, and it is very aggressive, and it can handle really poor habitat and water quality. And it’s really effective at displacing these native species."

North Carolina is currently home to 52 species of crayfish. One is considered endangered— meaning its continued existence in the state is in jeopardy. Five are considered state threatened, or likely to become endangered.

Hoch said the award to study them will be available starting in October, when the newly funded research begins.