Program highlights importance of crayfish in Mississippi ecosystems, offers experience collecting crayfish firsthand

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Zanethia Barnett (left), American Fisheries Society Hutton Scholar Brianna Sims (middle) and volunteer Earl Choice (right) kick sein for crayfish in the Little Cahaba River in June 2016.

Article by Maggie Smith, Green Student Intern & UM English major

Crayfish—commonly called crawfish— are on everyone’s mind this time of year as the weather begins to turn a little warmer. But have you ever wondered about the importance of crayfish in Mississippi, outside of their role as a spring diet staple? On March 18,, University of Mississippi doctoral candidate Zanethia Barnett will present “Crayfish of Mississippi,” a program intended to provide attendees with an overview of crayfish biology, diet, habitat, the impact humans have on them and why crayfish are key indicators of healthy ecosystems. The program will take place at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Society in Holly Springs. Attendees will also have the opportunity to experience crayfish collecting firsthand.

Mitch Robinson, conservation education manager for Strawberry Plains, cited the program as particularly important in examining Mississippi’s unique status as home to a variety of crayfish species.

“Our state is blessed with over 60 species of crayfish, 17 of which are endemic, meaning they live nowhere else on the Earth other than Mississippi due to our variety of native habitats and climates,” Robinson explained.

Barnett, who is also a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, feels the program could offer any attendee the opportunity to see crayfish as more than just food.

“After learning about the numerous roles crayfish play within these systems, the rapid decline of numerous crayfish populations, and the vast amount of unknown knowledge of numerous crayfish species, I became compelled to study and add to our current knowledge of these organisms,” said Barnett. “Understanding the importance of these organisms, and raising awareness of the negative effects humans cause to the habitats and water quality of aquatic systems will help preserve not only crayfish, but also the ecosystem they reside in.”

The program will take place on Saturday March 18 from 10 am to noon. Registration is $10 per person and $25 per family. Contact Mitch Robinson at mrrobinson@audubon.org to reserve your spot.

 

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