Federal Grant Funds Crayfish Conservation Efforts on North Carolina Coastal Plains
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Federal Grant Funds Crayfish Conservation Efforts on North Carolina Coastal Plains

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has received significant support in its efforts to protect the crayfish species most in need of protection in the Tar Heel State’s coastal plain region. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently awarded the Commission approximately $270,000, along with a nonfederal match of nearly $90,000, to assist in the crayfish assessment.

Scientists will coordinate efforts with partner organizations in South Carolina and Georgia through a central hub spanning all three states. Much of the funding will go toward supporting staff to conduct fieldwork and surveys to isolate trends—such as population fluctuations—over time.

Deputy Chief of Inland Fisheries Rachael Hoch says crayfish on the southeastern Atlantic slope face a range of threats, including habitat loss due to urbanization and development and the resulting polluted water that washes downstream onto coastal plains on its way to the Atlantic.

“We’re also seeing the effects of climate change,” Hoch says. “This area is going to be affected by rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, storm surges, and also drought. And those droughts are essentially drying up the water table, and we’re losing these really important wetlands for some of the crayfish.”

Scientists will use genetic analysis to measure diversity within each species, which they say is a key indicator of the health of specific populations. The information will guide their study of another major threat: invasive species.

“It’s specifically the red swamp crayfish, which is a crayfish that’s non-native to North Carolina and is very aggressive and can handle really bad habitat and water quality,” he says. “And it’s really effective at crowding out these native species.”

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

Hoch said the award for their study will be available in October, when new publicly funded research begins.