A researcher at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has helped discover three new kinds of crayfish in Kentucky's Appalachian region. Jim Fetzner and his team said these newly classified lobster-like crustaceans could help us understand how crayfish evolve.
The recently discovered crayfish are thought to have evolved from one original species, Cambarus robustus, which is commonly found in streams and rivers across the eastern United States. The research suggests the new species developed because stream changes prevented the crayfish from breeding with diverse specimens, also known as stream piracy.
Three members of the research team did field work, observing in-person the physical differences between the different crayfish, while Fetzner worked in the lab and looked at genetic differences. Fetzner said people had reported diversity in the region's crayfish for years, but this was the first time they were shown to be biologically different species.
The research team has recommended that two of the new species be protected by conservation efforts, as they have very narrow habitats that are at risk of destruction. While the role these new crayfish play in the ecosystem is still unknown, Fetzner said the next step in research will be to look at their greater effect on the region.
Fetzner said every piece of research done on crayfish is important to learn more about these creatures.
"There are very few people working with crayfish, even though there have been more in the last decade or so," he said. "But there's still a lot that we don't know about them, so data like this is definitely needed for these guys."
More than 420 species of crayfish live in the United States, including 17 in Pennsylvania.