Many animal groups reach their highest diversity globally in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Crayfishes are one such group, with no less than 80 described species and several undescribed taxa occurring in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northwestern Georgia. Within rivers, streams, and wetlands of the southern Appalachians countless vicariant events have occurred with the regions crayfishes leading to this diversity. In addition to vicariance, the dendritic nature of streams, avoidance of glacial impacts during the Pleistocene epoch, and diversity of lentic and lotic habitats lends itself to speciation. Several smaller mountain ranges make up the southern Appalachian chain, one of which is the Balsam Mountains nested in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). While much of eastern Tennessee (Williams and Bivens 2001) and western North Carolina (Simons and Fraley 2010) have been surveyed for crayfishes, GSMNP has yet to be intensively studied by astacologists. This is unfortunate, and in need of remediation if a true understanding of Appalachian crayfish diversity is going to be ascertained. Results of the limited amount of work performed in the region indicate a rich crayfish fauna occurs within the park boundaries with several potentially undescribed crayfishes. Information courtesy of Dr. Loughman
As an intern with DLIA, part of my job included chosing a project to focus on. I decided to help Dr. Zachary Loughman in collecting and photographing species of crayfishes throughout the park. Part of my collecting was done with Dr. Loughman and his students Mike and Nicole, and part of it was done by myself or with another DLIA intern, Laine Lyles. The project allowed me the experience of fun, hands-on fieldwork while learning plenty of astacology!
On days when I collected, first I chose destinations with the crayfish species of interest. I loaded up my equipment and headed out! Next I waded into the water, net in hand. I flipped rocks and perfected the art of capturing crayfish.
To achieve the desired profile of each subject for its picture, first I placed the crawdad in a plastic container. I waited until it posed perfectly for the camera. It needed to have its tail uncurled and photographed from around a 45-degree angle to show its features. I learned, through this process, that crayfish are sometimes difficult models to work with...
Of course, there was other fun I found along the way while collecting...
Doing fieldwork with crayfish was definitely my favorite part of the Discover Life in America experience. Zach and his crew were great to work with and I enjoyed the independece that a personal project allowed. If you're interested in learning more about crayfish in the park, I have begun to create species pages for each one.