Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Conserving Freshwater Crayfish in Australia

Australia has a rich diversity of freshwater crayfish, but many of our species are at risk.

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When Thomas Huxley – Darwin’s “bulldog” and greatest advocate – searched for an animal on which to base his Introduction to Zoology (1880), he naturally settled on the humble crayfish. In his own words, he wanted to show how “the careful study of one of the commonest and insignificant of animals, leads us […] to the widest generalisations and the most difficult problems of zoology”. Unfortunately, in his discussions he completely ignored one of the richest countries in freshwater crayfish – Australia.

Home to 148 of the 600 species recognised globally, Australia is a heavyweight of crustacean diversity. This includes the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate – the Tasmanian giant Astacopsis gouldi, weighing in at a whopping 5 kg – and some of the smallest species measuring barely 1 cm. Not only are Aussie crayfish species numerous and diverse, they are evolutionary relics. They diversified around 150 million years ago – the same time as the global radiation of birds.

Australian crayfish drifted away from their South American and Malagasy cousins during the split of the Gondwanan supercontinent. Isolated on a continent with extremely variable water availability, they slowly evolved to fill a number of niches.

Some crayfish live exclusively in fresh waters, some live in temporary desert springs, while others dig burrows to access the water table....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.