Maryland's native crayfish in danger

Annapolis, Maryland- A new study by Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists finds that several of Maryland's native crayfish species have declined due to the introduction and spread of invasive species. This new study highlights the need for increased public awareness of invasive species issues and public participation and support to prevent the spread of problem animals.

"It's been over 45 years since the last comprehensive study of Maryland's crayfish, and a lot has changed in that time" said Jay Kilian, a biologist in DNR's Resource Assessment Service and one of the authors of the study. "Maryland is now home to five non-native crayfish, all introduced as unwanted pets, through their use as bait by anglers, or as a result of escapes from aquaculture operations."

The threat looms large, especially with the first-ever discovery of the Rusty Crayfish, one of the most notorious invasive species, in three Maryland watersheds in 2007 and 2008.

Crayfish play important ecological roles in nature. They serve as prey to many terrestrial and aquatic predators and are important processors of organic matter, the basis of aquatic food webs. However, several non-native crayfish species have flourished, become invasive, and are now widespread in the state. These invasive species represent the greatest threat to Maryland's 14 native crayfish species.

Invasive crayfish can become very abundant in the streams, rivers, and lakes in which they are introduced. They often out-compete native crayfish for shelter habitats and food. These invasive species can also reduce the quality and quantity of food and habitat available to other aquatic animals.

"The most important thing we can do to protect our native species is to prevent the further spread of invasive crayfish already in Maryland and keep other invasives out," Kilian said.

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