We end this year's Headwaters Highlights with the wonderful Caitlin Claire Bloomer (she/her). She is currently a second year MSc. student in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with Dr. Chris Taylor, and a proud member of Crustacean Nation!
Caitlin shared with us about her road to graduate school and the research that she’s working on:
Hailing from Ireland, I grew up by the coast and fell in love with all things aquatic. I completed my BSc. in Marine Biology at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. While I was there, I did some exciting research in hermit crabs and marine diatoms. However, I also gained experience in aquatic macroinvertebrates and stream health; ever so slowly I was pulled across to the freshwater science side!
After spending some time interning at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas, I took the plunge and moved full-time to the U.S. to tackle my graduate degree in Illinois. I love spending time wading through streams, getting mucky in the mud, and finding any and all stream dwelling creatures. I’m currently researching burrowing crayfish so the SFS instagram is going to see a lot of crayfish action!
Burrowing crayfish are incredibly productive and provide a host of benefits to their ecosystem. They serve as important predators, and as prey to over 200 species in North America alone. Their burrows can be used by several other animals, including snakes, frogs, macroinvertebrates and even the federally endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly. Excavating these burrows provides soil aeration and nutrient mixing which in turn supports a wider range of plant life. However, they are consistently understudied and looked over when it comes to federal conservation and protection. Without gathering habitat, distribution, and life history data on these species, it’s impossible to make an argument for their conservation.
These crayfish are often found in conservation areas and wetlands managed for waterfowl. We’re hoping to see their response to common practices so we can better inform management agencies on how they can best protect their crayfish communities. We want to know: How do burrowing crayfish respond to conservation management practices like flood manipulation, controlled burning, and disking?
I’m studying at a couple of conservation areas in southeastern Missouri. The Missouri Department of Conservation has taken a real interest in crayfish conservation and is very supportive of this research. We’ll be surveying areas that undergo different management practices so we can evaluate the burrowing crayfish presence, abundance, and species diversity. This will involve setting up transects to survey crayfish and collecting habitat data including plant cover, canopy cover, temperature, etc. Other aspects include creating habitat suitability models for specific burrowing species to try and locate new populations within the state.
There are nearly 100 species of burrowing crayfish across the world and yet there is often little to no information about them. We are hoping our research sparks interest in studying more of these interesting organisms. Furthermore, we are hoping the results we find from these studies help inform management decisions on conservation and agricultural lands, helping managers to protect their crayfish communities.
If you have questions or want to reach out, Caitlin can be found at email@example.com, @BloomerCaitlin on Twitter, and @call.me.crawdaddy on Instagram. Check out here takeover of the @freshwater_science Instagram here!