A Carnegie Museum of Natural History researcher and his colleagues described three new species of North American crayfish in a paper published this year.
Dr. James Fetzner Jr., assistant curator in the Section of Invertebrate Zoology, contributed to an article entitled “A case of Appalachian endemism: Revision of the Cambarus robustus complex (Decapoda: Cambaridae) in the Kentucky and Licking River basins of Kentucky, USA, with the description of three new species.”
Published in the scientific journal Zootaxa, the article details how researchers discovered the existence of three new species of crayfish where only one was previously thought to exist. Zootaxa publishes studies specifically related to the discovery of new species.
Researchers determined the presence of these new species by collecting specimens from the wild and measuring their physical and genetic differences back in the laboratory.
“Because we were already aware of some physical differences in these crayfish among the geographic areas included in the study, it was not a stretch to hypothesize that they might be distinct species,” Dr. Fetzner said.
“The original species, Cambarus robustus, is known from larger streams and rivers throughout most of the eastern United States, especially in and around the Appalachian Mountains,” he said. “These are big, robust looking crayfish. There are some slight differences in their overall appearance and claw shape from stream to stream, which has made some researchers over the years think that there might be some additional undescribed species present in the complex.”
The article notes that the diversification of the three new species, named Cambarus guenteri, Cambarus taylori, and Cambarus hazardi, likely occurred because of geographic changes in the region. Among these, “stream piracy,” which is the theft or diversion of water from one stream by another, is cited as a possible primary contributor.
The other authors included on the article are Dr. Zachary J. Loughman of the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at West Liberty University in West Liberty, West Virginia; Dr. Sujan M. Henkanaththegedara of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia; and Roger F. Thoma of the Midwest Biodiversity Institute in Hilliard, Ohio.
As part of the research team, Dr. Fetzner was responsible for conducting the genetic analyses that were used to differentiate these new species.
“Carnegie Museum of Natural History is proud to have contributed to this study, which will give researchers and conservationists a deeper understanding of these new species,” said Dr. Eric Dorfman, the Daniel G. and Carole L. Kamin Director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh strives to push our understanding of the natural world and biodiversity forward as part of its mission.”
Funding for the study was provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the West Liberty University Faculty Development Grant Program, and West Virginia Challenge Fund Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.
The full article can be found online at biotaxa.org.