Australian Aquatic Biological

Australian aquatic biodiversity research and consultancy

Ellen Clarks Crayfish Euastacus clarkae Paper Published

Euastacus clarkae

Euastacus clarkae

Between 2005 and 2012 the Australian Crayfish Project (ACP) has been researching an IUCN listed Critically Endangered species Euastacus clarkae. Then in 2013 the ACP received a Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (MBZSCF) grant (Project 12054688) and I am extremely grateful for their generous support. The MBZSCF is a significant philanthropic endowment established to provide targeted grants to individual species conservation initiatives, recognize leaders in the field of species conservation and elevate the importance of species in the broader conservation debate (http://www.speciesconservation.org/). With their valuable support and the support of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service we were able to complete this massive project.

Ellen Clark's Crayfish Euastacus clarkae

Ellen Clark’s Crayfish Euastacus clarkae

The entire Hastings River catchment some 3846 km2 was surveyed and established the Extent of Occurrence for E. clarkae at only 200 km2. This project not only supplied critical information on E. clarkae but documented the distribution of all Parastacidae species occurring in the catchment. The research on the rest of the catchment is ongoing but so far in proposed follow up scientific manuscripts we will remove one Euastacus species currently listed as occurring in the Hastings Drainage and add 2 new Euastacus species never previously recorded – stay tuned.

Berried Female E. clarkae

Berried Female E. clarkae

Pages from 12. JCB_2315W_McCormack (1)

The E. clarkae paper was published in the prestigious Journal of Crustacean Biology (JCB). The Journal of Crustacean Biology is the official journal of The Crustacean Society for the publication of research on any aspect of the biology of Crustacea & other marine arthropods. It is a peer-reviewed, scientific journal containing papers of broad interest on crustacean biology and other marine arthropods, biographies of renowned carcinologists, book reviews of works on Crustacea, and pertinent announcements. As a member of The Crustacean Society I would recommend that you all join us as members if you are interested in Crustacea. The mission of the Crustacean Society is to advance the study of all aspects of the biology of the Crustacea by promoting the exchange and dissemination of information throughout the world. http://www.thecrustaceansociety.org/

 

A B S T R A C T

The imperiled Clark’s crayfish, Euastacus clarkae Morgan (1997), was described from a handful of juvenile specimens collected from one location in 1981. The Australian Crayfish Project recently completed an intensive field survey project to better define its distribution, habitat, biology and conservation status. Euastacus clarkae is restricted to headwater reaches of highland streams feeding the Hastings and Forbes rivers, at elevations ranging from 670-1150 m. The entire Hastings River catchment (3846 km2) was surveyed and established the Extent of Occurrence for E. clarkae at 200 km2. The distribution was almost entirely located within Werrikimbe National Park where the species was locally abundant. We recommended conservation down listing from Critically Endangered to Endangered and present information to support future conservation efforts and allow specific management plans to be drafted for this rare, highland species. To assist with identification we provide a key to this and other Euastacus found in the Hastings and adjoining drainages.

McCormack, R.B. (2015). Conservation of imperiled crayfish, Euastacus clarkae Morgan, 1997 (Decapoda: Parastacidae), a highland crayfish from the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia’s World Heritage Area. Journal of Crustacean Biology, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 282 – 291. DOI: 10.1163/1937240X-00002315

 

Translocated Cherax paper published

Translocated Cherax destructor from Mount White, NSW

Translocated Cherax destructor from Mount White, NSW

Based on the results of the Australian Crayfish Project a scientific paper on the translocation of the yabby Cherax destructor into eastern drainages of New South Wales, has been published in the scientific journal “Australian Zoologist”. The Royal Zoological Society publishes a fully refereed scientific journal, Australian Zoologist, specialising in topics relevant to Australian zoology. The Australian Zoologist was first published by the Society in 1914, making it the oldest Australian journal specialising in zoological topics. The scope of the journal has increased substantially in the last 20 years, and it now attracts papers on a wide variety of zoological, ecological and environmentally related topics.The Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales is a non-profit, scientific organisation dedicated to the study and conservation of native Australian fauna.  http://rzsnsw.org.au/

Translocated Cherax destructor from Piles Creek, Gosford, NSW

Translocated Cherax destructor from Piles Creek, Gosford, NSW

Abstract

The blue claw yabby Cherax destructor is a native of the Murray Darling drainage basin in the interior of south-eastern Australia. In New South Wales (NSW) the species naturally occurs west of the Great Dividing Range but recently, it has become established in eastern parts of NSW, outside of its natural range. The potential threats and translocation of this species into eastern NSW was first documented at 20 sites by Coughran et al. (2009). This paper builds on their initial work and documents a further 52 translocation sites (Table 1) recorded over the last four years. In an effort to further our understanding of the threat, we present information on the dispersal of this species together with observational information on interactions with freshwater crayfish (Parastacidae) species and suggest recommendations to help slow the translocation process.

McCormack, R.B. (2014). New records and review of the translocation of the yabby Cherax destructor into eastern drainages of New South Wales, Australia. Australian Zoologist. Volume 37 (1) 85 – 94. ISSN 0067-2238 (Print). http://doi.org/10.7882/AZ.2014.006

Yabbies make great pets and are excellent eating, but unlike the endemic freshwater crayfish in eastern drainages, they grows fast, mature early, breed frequently and have a shorter gestation period. These are traits that equip it to potentially out-compete the endemic freshwater crayfish. Their rapid proliferation, aggressive disposition and invasive habits tend to rapidly displace the endemic eastern crayfish. The NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee has listed ‘The introduction of fish to fresh waters within a river catchment outside their natural range’ as a Key Threatening Process (KTP) under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FM Act), and the yabby is certainly a threat in eastern NSW. This paper documents ACP research over the last 4 years and is a must for those interested in the conservation of our endemic eastern crayfish species.

 

A Day in the Swamps of Katoomba Chasing the Giant Dragonfly Petalura gigantea

The Giant Dragonfly Petalura gigantea

A Male Giant Dragonfly Petalura gigantea

In late December 2014, I met up with Dr Ian Baird one of Australia’s foremost experts on Giant Dragonflies and we spent the day together wandering selected swamps of the Blue Mountains hunting this rare and elusive species. This was an eye opener for me and I had a fantastic day learning all about Giant Dragonflies. The following information on the species was provided by Ian.

The Survey Swamp at Katoomba

The Survey Swamp at Katoomba (880 m a.s.l

Petalura gigantea, commonly known as the Giant Dragonfly or Southeastern Petaltail is a very large dragonfly which may have a wingspan up to 13 cm. It is recorded from selected peat swamps, bogs and seepages (mires) along the coast and ranges of NSW from Nadgee Nature Reserve near the Victorian border, to near the Qld border in and around Basket Swamp National Park and Boonoo Boonoo State Forest. It has also been observed in nearby Girraween National Park in southeastern Qld.

It has been recorded in swamp habitats from near sea level to 1240 m elevation. Listed as endangered in NSW under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, with habitat loss and degradation identified as the main threats to the species.

Ian Baird photographing a Giant Dragonfy caught in a spiders web

Ian Baird photographing a Giant Dragonfy caught in a spiders web

In addition to the large size and widely separated dark eyes, the species (and genus) is characterised by a long pterostigma (darkened cell) towards the distal end of the leading edge of the wings, and large petaloid superior anal appendages in adult males. Adult females lack the conspicuous petaloid appendages and are somewhat bulkier than males.

A dragonfly perching in the swamp

1. A dragonfly perching in the swamp

A Giant Dragonfly perching on a stick

2. Closer up perching on a stick

The Giant Dragonfly Petalura gigantea

3. The Giant Dragonfly Petalura gigantea

The family is unique amongst dragonflies, in that larvae excavate burrows which extend below the water table in soft peaty soils in mires, seepages or along stream margins. The larvae (mudeyes) occupy and maintain these burrows for their entire larval period, generally surviving on creatures captured within the burrow system, or perhaps ambushed at the burrow entrance. Larvae may leave their burrows to hunt under favorable conditions, but this behaviour has not been confirmed. Petalurid dragonflies have very long larval stages, which are known to extend for at least five years in two overseas species. Extrapolation from recent studies by Ian and Dr John Trueman, suggest, respectively, a larval stage of at least six years, and possibly 10 or more, in P. gigantea. Ian was extremely skilled at locating burrows and he found 10:1 to what I did. I was desperately searching for an occupied burrow but only ever found those recently vacated.

A burrow

A burrow

After this extended larval stage they emerge (October-January) and climb the nearest shrub or sedgeland vegetation to undergo emergence, usually leaving their larval skin (exuvia) attached to their shrub or sedge emergence supports. Ian and I surveyed the Katoomba swamp and I was astounded at the number of exuvia we found amongst the sedges. Ian indicated that this was an unusually large emergence event for this swamp patch.

The lava emerge from burrow, climb up and emerge from exuvia into dragonflies

The larva emerge from burrow, climb up and emerge from exuvia to become adult dragonflies

Exuvia from a dragon fly larva

Exuvia from a male dragonfly larvae

Adults live for a maximum of one summer flying season, which extends into February at least, with occasional late flying individuals having been observed on one occasion as late as mid-March in the Blue Mountains.

Giant Dragonflies mating in late December 2015

Giant Dragonflies mating in late December 2014

My thanks to Ian for a most enjoyable and informative day. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for Giant Dragonflies in the future.

Cheers
Rob McCormack
 

Selected references for Petalura gigantea

Baird I. R. C. (2012) The wetland habitats, biogeography and population dynamics of Petalura gigantea (Odonata: Petaluridae) in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. PhD thesis, University of Western Sydney, Australia. Available from http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/509925.

Baird I. R. C. (2013) Emergence behaviour in Petalura gigantea (Odonata: Petaluridae): confirmation of upright emergence. International Journal of Odonatology 16, 213-8. doi:10.1080/13887890.2013.798975

Baird, I.R.C. (2013). Larval habitat and behaviour of Phenes raptor (Odonata: Petaluridae): a review of current knowledge, with new observations. International Journal of Odonatology, 16, 79-91. doi:10.1080/13887890.2012.757723

Baird, I.R.C. (2014). Larval burrow morphology and groundwater dependence in a mire-dwelling dragonfly, Petalura gigantea (Odonata: Petaluridae). International Journal of Odonatology, 17, 101-121. doi:10.1080/13887890.2014.932312

Baird, I.R.C. (2014). Mate guarding and other aspects of reproductive behaviour in Petalura gigantea (Odonata: Petaluridae). International Journal of Odonatology, 17, 223-236. doi:10.1080/13887890.2014.979333

Baird I. R. C. & Burgin S. (2013) An emergence study of Petalura gigantea (Odonata: Petaluridae). International Journal of Odonatology 16, 193-211. doi:10.1080/13887890.2013.798580

Baird I. R. C. & Ireland C. (2006) Upright emergence in Petalura gigantea (Odonata: Petaluridae). International Journal of Odonatology 9, 45-50.

Benson D. & Baird I. R. C. (2012) Vegetation, fauna and groundwater interrelations in low nutrient temperate montane peat swamps in the upper Blue Mountains, New South Wales. Cunninghamia 12, 267-307. Available from http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/science/Scientific_publications/cunninghamia/contents_by_volume/volume_12#twelvefour

Davies, D.A.L. (1998). The genus Petalura: field observations, habits and conservation status (Anisoptera: Petaluridae). Odonatologica, 27, 287-305.

Fleck G. (2011) Phylogenetic placement of Petaluridae and basal Anisoptera families (Insecta: Odonata). Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde A Neue Series 4, 83-104.

Hawking J. H. & Theischinger G. (2004) Critical species of Odonata in Australia. International Journal of Odonatology 7, 113-32.

NSW Scientific Committee. (1998) Giant dragonfly – endangered species listing. NSW Scientific Committee final determination. Available from http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/determinations/GiantDragonflyEndSpListing.htm

NSW Scientific Committee. (2007). Petalura gigantea – endangered species listing amendment. NSW Scientific Committee determination to add Petalura litorea to Part 1 of Schedule 1 (Endangered species) of the Threatened Species Conservation Act. Available from http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/listings/PetaluraGiganteaAmendment.htm

Theischinger G. (1975) Ein “Dreigespann” von Petalura gigantea Leach. Tombo 18, 45. (In German, with English summary).

Theischinger G. (1999) A new species of Petalura Leach from south-eastern Queensland (Odonata: Petaluridae). Linzer biologische Beiträge 31, 159-66.

Theischinger G. & Endersby I. (2009) Identification Guide to the Australian Odonata. Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW, Hurstville, NSW.

Theischinger G. & Hawking J. H. (2006) The Complete Field Guide to Dragonflies of Australia. CSIRO, Collingwood, Vic.

Tillyard, R.J. (1909). Studies in the life-histories of Australian Odonata. 1. The life-history of Petalura gigantea Leach. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW, 34, 256-267.

Tillyard, R.J. (1911). Studies in the life-histories of Australian Odonata. 4. Further notes on the life-history of Petalura gigantea Leach. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW, 36, 86-96.

Ware, J.L., Beatty, C.D., Sanchez Herrera, M., Valley, S., Johnson, J., Kerst, C., May, M.L. & Theischinger, G. (2014). The petaltail dragonflies (Odonata: Petaluridae): Mesozoic habitat specialists that survive to the modern day. Journal of Biogeography, 41, 1291-1300. doi:10.1111/jbi.12273

 

Riek’s Crayfish Euastacus rieki (first breeding record)

Berried Euastacus reiki from Namadgi National Park, ACT

Berried Euastacus rieki from Namadgi National Park, ACT

The ACT Aquatic Team  from the ACT Government’s Conservation Planning and Research Unit sent me this photo of a berried Euastacus rieki and I just had to share it with you all. It’s the first female with eggs recorded and a tremendous leap towards filling the huge knowledge gaps on this cryptic species.

The Aquatic Team from the ACT Government’s Conservation Planning and Research Unit have been surveying subalpine bogs as well as creeks and rivers in the ACT to determine potential methods for a broader distribution survey of two species of spiny crayfish.

The current project is stage 1 to test methods for a program to determine the distribution and relative abundance of Euastacus crassus and Euastacus rieki. Despite being the type location for Euastacus rieki, very little is known on the distribution or habits of these two species in the ACT or elsewhere.

Among the more than 50 crayfish collected the team discovered two berried E. rieki (42 & 53mm OCL) with 100, 3.5mm orange eggs. Both crays were collected in a subalpine bog (approximately 1600m a.s.l) in Namadgi National Park.

This is the first breeding information regarding E. rieki and indicates that berried females remain active and are likely to hold their eggs over winter, despite the frequent snow cover and sub zero temperatures. Improved monitoring of alpine areas will be important in understanding potential impacts from climate change

The project was directed by ecologists from the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate of the ACT Government. The work has been supported through ACT Government climate change funding.

Euastacus rieki from Yarrangobilly, NSW

Euastacus rieki from Yarrangobilly, NSW

 

 

 

 

 

 

New species of Gramastacus crayfish for Australia

The eastern swamp crayfish Gramastacus lacus, from the Port Stephens area

The eastern swamp crayfish Gramastacus lacus, from the Port Stephens area

A new species of Gramastacus freshwater crayfish has been described by Rob McCormack resulting from research over the last eight years as a volunteer on the Australian Crayfish Project (ACP). The eastern swamp crayfish from the genus Gramastacus, was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Western swamp crayfish Gramastacus insolitus, from the Grampian area, Victoria

Western swamp crayfish Gramastacus insolitus, from the Grampian area, Victoria

Only one other species of Gramastacus crayfish is known and that occurs some 900 km away in the Grampians region of Victoria. This new species is found in lowland ephemeral habitats between 3 and 48 m a.s.l. surrounding coastal lakes and lagoons from Wamberal Lagoon, north along the coastal strip to Wallis Lake, a straight line distance of 165 km.

Gramastacus lacus from Lake Macquarie area

Gramastacus lacus from Lake Macquarie area

This new species “The eastern swamp crayfish Gramastacus lacus” is one of the world’s smallest freshwater crayfish species with specific habitat requirements, preferring ephemeral habitats (smaller creeks, swamps, wet areas and stump holes) that offer conditions that enable their survival and presumably limit threats from other predators, such as eels. Habitats in the same area that consist of permanent water invariably contain large numbers of freshwater eels (Anguilla reinhardtii) and native fish gudgeons (family Eleotridae) but not G. lacus. Many ephemeral swamps and creeks can revert from dry beds to water bodies several metres deep when flooded. Eels and fish may penetrate into and temporarily visit some habitat areas but G. lacus takes refuge in the periphery, protected within the thick reeds and flooded grasses along the shallow edges, well away from the deeper water.

Berried female from Wyee area

Berried female from Wyee area

Being dependent on regular natural flooding and drying cycles, only lowland, swampy areas are suitable for this tiny crayfish. Each crayfish digs a small rounded cross-section burrow up to one metre deep into the water table to survive the drying cycle. Some areas are riddled with these small burrows as they are a prolific species and can occur in very high numbers in small habitat areas.

Gramastacus lacus from the Gosford area

Gramastacus lacus from the Gosford area

They are found in one of Australia’s, most developed and fastest developing regions, unfortunately, this means that much of their habitat has been lost in the past, these ephemeral areas are the first to be drained or reclaimed to make way for agriculture, industry, housing developments, golf courses and infrastructure, etc. Now, with this species description, this crayfish must be considered in any future developments and hopefully future habitat loss will be reduced.

Typical coastal swamp habitat

Typical coastal swamp habitat

The scattered populations of Gramastacus seem highly fragmented and many are increasingly threatened by a range of threats other than human development. Invasive crayfish, pest fish species like plague minnows and swordtails, rising sea levels and falling water tables all are increasing threats. Luckily, the large number of National Parks and Reserves along the coastal strip provides safe refuges for some populations.

“The eastern swamp crayfish Gramastacus lacus sp. n. (Decapoda, Parastacidae) a new species of freshwater crayfish from coastal New South Wales, Australia” was published in Issue 398 of ZooKeys. This is a free access journal and if you would like a copy of the paper in full go to:  http://www.pensoft.net/journals/zookeys/article/7544/abstract/the-eastern-swamp-crayfish-gramastacus-lacus-sp-n-decapoda-parastacidae-a-new-species-of-freshwater-crayfish-from-coasta

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