The Australian Crayfish Project Team Visits Tasmania

In early May four members of the ACP visited Tasmania.  We are also members of the NSW Aquaculture Association and one of the reasons for visiting Tassie was to visit Huon Aquaculture. For an article of Huon see: http://nswaqua.com.au/huon-aquaculture-sea-cages/  Whilst in Tassie we took full advantage of the opportunity and travelled the country from one end to the other. We flew into Launceston and hired 3 campervans, Paul and I had one each and the Burnes brothers shared a van. Despite the constant rain, snow and wind we had a great time in Tasraina.

Our first camp site
Our first camp site

The first night saw us camped at the end of a small track on the Great Forester River. We didn’t have any bait so dragged a bit of road kill (dead wallaby) and tied that up on the edge of the river to see if it attracted anything.

The bait-a dead wallaby
The bait-a dead wallaby
Paul Burnes with a 1.5kg Astacopsis gouldi
Paul Burnes with a 1.5kg Astacopsis gouldi (eastern Tasmania)

Surprisingly we managed to attract a 1.5 kg giant Tasmanian lobster. It was a bit of a surprise and only quick action by Craig saw it captured by hand. It was a female but not berried even though I would have expected it to be breeding season. After a photo shoot we release here back into the river, but a great start for us.

Galaxias were common and abundant
Galaxias were common and abundant

We observed large numbers of eels in the creeks and lots of Galaxias as we spotlighted the creeks and rivers at night.

Opportunistic surveying
Opportunistic surveying

We didn’t have a plan as such we were just driving around checking out the country side and stopping at likely spots to see if we could find a crayfish and have a photo shoot of the catch of the day.

Tasmanian Engaeus laevis
Tasmanian Engaeus laevis

Engaeus crayfish were quite common and the first specimens we found were Engaeus laevis.

Engaeus fossor
Engaeus fossor (green tint)

We also found a number of Engaeus fossor. Interestingly we found quite a large colour variation in the species.

Engaeus fossor
Engaeus fossor (Tan tint)

Engaeus crayfish are relatively easy to find, their presence is given away by their chimney shaped burrows. They are a deep burrowing crayfish so knowing where they live and then actually getting a specimen out of the burrow is a very different matter.

Looking for Engaeus crayfish
Looking for Engaeus crayfish

Large parts of Tasmania suffered from bush fires over summer. This however made it easier for us to find the burrows.

Engaeus burrows
Engaeus burrows

Its always good to find something new. Paul V managed to catch an Engaeus lengana. Thats the first time I’ve ever seen one so very happy with that catch.

Engaeus lengana
Engaeus lengana

Just being tourists an traveling around the whole state we didnt have much in the way of survey equipment, basically it was all capture of crayfish by hand.

Looking through a creek
Craig looking through a creek

Small creeks in remote areas produced a surprising number of crayfish species. This creek was full for Astacopsis tricornis.

Astacopsis tricornis
Astacopsis tricornis

Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative with high winds and rain. The state was in drought till we got there. Once we arrived the heavens opened.

Blocked roads were a repetitive theme
Blocked roads were a repetitive theme

Nearly all our travels through Tassie were on the back roads. Unfortunately, with the high winds and rain, trees down were a huge problem for us. The boys managed to clear this fallen tree with the saw on a pen knife. We managed to get another 2 km up the road before we were stopped by huge fallen trees that completely blocked the road.

Another roadside campsit
Paul V (left) and Paul B (right) at another roadside campsite

We were fully self sufficient so we would make camp, survey the area around the camp and await rescue by someone with a big chainsaw.

Rob McCormack with a Giant Tasmanian Lobster Astacopsis gouldi
Rob McCormack with a Giant Tasmanian Lobster Astacopsis gouldi

One of the highlights of the trip was spending some time with Todd Walsh and researching the Giant Tasmania Lobster Astacopsis gouldi. We all had a great time with Todd who was a wealth of information on this iconic species. If you would like to read more about our time with Todd see: http://www.austcray.com/2016/06/tasmanian-giant-freshwater-lobster-astacopsis-gouldi/

Paul Van der Werf with a 2.5 kg Astacopsis gouldi
Paul Van der Werf with a 2.5 kg Astacopsis gouldi
Despite the rain Craig Burnes is happy with this Astacopsis gouldi he caught
Despite the rain Craig Burnes is happy with this Astacopsis gouldi he caught

I had a fantastic time in Tassie with a great bunch of mates. We were cold an wet most of the time, spent long hours going short distances, spent hours digging holes, trudged up and down mountains, had to abandon camp in the middle of the night just before the floodwaters washed us away, cleared fallen trees off the road with a penknife, and spent endless hours at the end of the trip cleaning the mud out of our campervans, but despite all that- I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Cheers

Rob

Orbost Spiny Crayfish paper finally published

Euastacus diversus from Ellery Creek (Brodribb drainage) showing 2 marginal squamal spines
Euastacus diversus from Ellery Creek (Brodribb drainage) showing 2 marginal squamal spines

Started in 2005 the quest to rediscover the Orbost Spiny Crayfish Euastacus diversus has been a long and intriguing journey cumulating in the publication of this paper.

This story began back in 1959 when one of Australia’s foremost expert on freshwater crayfish at that time, Edgar Riek, discovered this small freshwater crayfish species in the east Gippsland region of Victoria. Then in 1969 he described the species and named it Euastacus diversus. Since that day this crayfish has remained a rare and elusive species.

In 1986, the then current expert on the genus Euastacus, Gary Morgan, searched for this species but was unable to find any in the wild. As a consequence he redescribed the handful of original specimens collected by Riek in 1959 that are held at the Australian Museum. Gary Morgan’s detailed description, published in the Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria 30th May 1986, was the latest scientific publication on this species and forms the basis of all current information and opinions until now.

In 2005, the Australian Crayfish Project (ACP) was started, involving one of the largest projects researching freshwater crayfish ever seen in Australia. Between 2005 and 2007 we also failed to find any specimens of Euastacus diversus for the type locality general area 40 miles north of Orbost. Then in 2007 we changed our methods and successfully started finding more and more specimens. Up to 2011 a considerable number of E. diversus and other Euastacus species were found in the wild. The project has been very successful in finding this and other crayfish species, and large areas of southern NSW and eastern Victoria were systematically biologically surveyed specifically for freshwater crayfish. We found Euastacus specimens everywhere and most did not match the description for the known species leading to much confusion. However, genetic analysis by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the USA helped clarify the situation resulting in the thorough redescription of E. diversus and the discover of a number of new species.

Euastacus diversus redescription 2015
Euastacus diversus redescription 2015

The research culminated in this paper titled “Re-description of the Orbost Spiny Crayfish, Euastacus diversus Riek 1969 (Decapoda: Parastacidae), in Eastern Victoria, Australia” published in the journal “Freshwater Crayfish”. The paper redescribes Euastacus diversus to include the Bonang River crayfish (previously thought to be a new species).

The Bonang River crayfish from the most northern extent of distribution
The Bonang River crayfish from the most northern extent of distribution

The Bonang taxon represent a morphologically distinct population of Euastacus diversus that is genetically 1.95% divergent from the E. diversus type locality populations.

Euastacus diversus from Riddle Creek
Euastacus diversus from Riddle Creek

The research extends the distribution of the species to the Brodribb, Yalmy, Rodger and Bonang River drainages at elevations ranging from 350 – 950 m a.s.l., with an overall Extent of Occurrence of 465 km2. Research continues on E. diversus which will surely increase the Extent of Occurrence. Research also continues on the new Euastacus species and hopefully the first of the new species descriptions will be published later this year.

Citation:

Coughran J, McCormack RB and Fetzner Jr. JW (2015). Re-description of the Orbost spiny crayfish, Euastacus diversus Riek 1969 (Decapoda: Parastacidae), in eastern Victoria, Australia. Freshwater Crayfish 21(1): 185-197.

 

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An expedition to Victoria –November 2015

I had the pleasure of traveling to Victoria to present a lecture on “The Freshwater Crayfish of Victoria” to the Bendigo Field Naturalists Club. They were great crowd and I had a great time chatting with them.

Bendigo Field Naturalist Club
Bendigo Field Naturalist Club

Whilst in the Bendigo area I sampled the local creeks and streams, only finding yabbies Cherax destructor.

Cherax destructor from Bendigo
Cherax destructor from Bendigo Creek

The following day I had an aquaculture consult in the Seymour area and whilst there I took the opportunity to sample the local creeks and streams. Again abundant Cherax destructor but then a very nice surprise. I found a colony of Engaeus lyelli. This was excellent as I also managed to capture berried females, something I haven’t come across in this species before.
For a full article on Engaeus lyelli “Click Here”

Engaeus lyelli
Engaeus lyelli

Travelling south to the Otways the following day I sampled creeks, streams and rivers, finding mostly Cherax destructor and glass shrimp Paratya australiensis. One nice surprise in the Campaspe River were Australian Basket Shell Mussels Corbicula australis. They are a widespread and common species but usually hard to find so finding them easily was a pleasing result.

Australian Basket Shell Mussel
Australian Basket Shell Mussel

Further south around Waurn Ponds another nice surprise was the capture of a berried female Engaeus merosetosus. Enagaeus merosetosus are relatively common and widespread in that area however, females with eggs are exceptionally rare so the capture of one greatly increases the general knowledge on the species. For a full article on Engaeus merosetosus “Click Here”.

Engaeus merosetosus
Engaeus merosetosus

I spent several days at Otway Crays, Bellbrae, Victoria with the owner Steve Chara. Steve is a mate and we spent a few days together surveying the general area. Mostly we were finding Cherax albidus and Geochara gracilis. Both species were abundant and we found thousands. For a full article on Geocharax gracilis “Click Here”.

Geocharax gracilis
Geocharax gracilis

We also found Engaeus sericatus at a number of sites.

Engaeus sericatus
Engaeus sericatus

Steve Chara is one of Victoria’s largest yabby farmers and I spent some time with him sorting, grading and packaging yabbies.

Cherax albidus in a holding net
Cherax albidus in a holding net
Pumkin used to feed Cherax albidus
Pumpkin used to feed Cherax albidus

Steve had a bi-coloured yabby in a tank, this is a rare treat as these are extremely rare animals. For an article on Bi-Coloured Crayfish “Click Here”.

Bi-coloured Cherax albidus
Bi-coloured Cherax albidus

Unfortunately the expedition was over all too soon and I had to head back to the office.

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Southern Lobster Euastacus yanga

The Southern Lobster
The Southern Lobster
Euastacus yanga

We have finally finished our aquatic surveys of the lower Clyde River, NSW. It’s an exciting area with mostly pristine clear flowing streams full of aquatic life. The results of the survey have been extremely interesting and have resulted in some significant findings. We have identified 3 different freshwater crayfish species in the lower Clyde River and they all match the known descriptions for all three species. Interestingly, the specimens of Euastacus crayfish previously collected from the upper Clyde are generally morphologically different to those in the lower Clyde. Eventually we will get the genetics done on all the specimens collected and then work out whether the upper Clyde specimens are a morphological variation or a separate species. Stay tuned for further updates. The full results of the aquatic biological surveys will be complied into a report and issued to the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority.

The Lower Clyde River NSW
The Lower Clyde River NSW

We surveyed 57 sites and at 43 of those we captured freshwater crayfish. A total of 149 Euastacus yanga were captured, examined, weighed, measured, and released during this survey. Euastacus yanga has the third largest distribution of any Euastacus species in Australia after E. spinifer and E. armatus. Found in south-eastern New South Wales from Robertson all the way south to north-eastern Victoria. It’s distribution extends from the Shoalhaven River in the north, then south through the Clyde, Deua, Tuross, Brogo, Murrah, Bega, Towamba, Womboyn, Wallagaraugh and Genoa rivers, as well as all the smaller coastal rivers and creeks running into all the inlets, lakes and bays down the coast. Found from 50 m to 895 m a.s.l it is a widespread and abundant species.

Berried female Euastacus yanga in a small clear feeder stream
Berried female Euastacus yanga in a small clear feeder streams

We observed Euastacus yanga to commence breeding in mid May in water temperatures between 11.3-12.1°C. The berried females nurtured their eggs and young till mid November to mid December when they released their brood into the streams. A huge amount of information was gathered as part of the surveys and this will be compiled into a peer reviewed scientific manuscript.