CRAYCAM: Novel technology for endangered and invasive crayfish management

BACKGROUND.

Invasive non-native crayfish cause US$ 61 million a year in damage and management costs worldwide and pose a severe and increasing threat to native biodiversity as ecologically destructive omnivores and ecosystem engineers. Burrowing by invasive crayfish causes structural damage to reservoirs and watercourses which negatively affects ecosystem services, such as water supply and flood defences water services. Invasive signal crayfish have also contributed to the severe decline of native endangered white clawed crayfish within Europe. Assessing populations of crayfish is therefore a conservation and biosecurity imperative which is hampered by the biases and short falls of current sampling techniques.

Novel and exciting technologies, such as Remote Underwater Video (RUV) and environmental DNA (eDNA) are the future in biodiversity monitoring. These tools are at the pioneering edge of research and innovation. The aim of this project is to develop and test a variety of RUV methods, including baited RUVs (BRUVs) and Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs), i.e. remote controlled submarines, and in combination with other techniques for detecting signal crayfish and white clawed crayfish with a view to improving information flow to facilitate more effective and targeted management. The student will complete field and laboratory work using these tools to help answer fundamental questions regarding crayfish conservation and invasion ecology while providing an applied dimension with regards to intervention and management strategies.

 

Invasive signal crayfish

 

OBJECTIVES.

1.DETERMINE NOVEL TECHNOLOGY EFFECTIVENESS IN COMPARISON WITH TRADITIONAL METHODS

A. Explore differences in detection probability between RUV, BRUV, ROV compared to manual trapping, Artificial Refuge Traps (ARTs) and eDNA

B. Determine environmental limitations for RUV such as turbidity and habitat type.

C. Assess novel molecular methods to monitor crayfish as well as to add value, for example in the detection of crayfish plague.

2.PROVIDE FIRST DATA ON DISTRIBUTION AND POPULATION STRUCTURE ALONG A LONGITUDINAL GRADIENT

A. The student will use the optimal technology to sample a series of catchments and reservoirs across the length of the U.K. to identify differences which may be driving invasions

3.CLASSIFY KEY MICROHABITAT AND WATER PARAMETERS FOR NATIVE AND INVASIVE CRAYFISH

A. Determine crucial environmental parameters for both species to determine habitat and niche overlap and pave the way for habitat restoration interventions.

ROV image of crayfish in burrow

APPROACH. This project will largely be field based surveys, video analysis, GIS modelling and potential for a lab based study.

River invaded by crayfish in the Yorkshire Dales

TRAINING. This project crosses core ecology with real world application and innovation in technology. At the University of Leeds the candidate will be jointly supervised by JS and AD. With JS’s research group they will be trained in field approaches in novel technology and survey design for conservation and management. With AD’s research group, they will receive training in invasion ecology and in biosecurity treatments. The candidate will spend 3 months working with APEM consulting to understand industry requirements and assist in developing their ROV survey protocols and designs. The candidate will learn skills in freshwater species identification, crayfish conservation, survey design and analysis, GIS, and non-native species management. All supervisors have extensive experience of supervising PhD students as well as different aspects of crayfish ecology and offer a supportive environment to enable the student to fulfil their project aims, undertake professional development and improve their career prospects.

 

IMPACT. The project places environmental science and water engineering at the heart of responsible management of natural resources (NERC vision). It will lead to publications in high quality scientific journals and inform APEM operational practice. Societal impact includes reducing threats to water supply, benefits to biodiversity and ecosystems processes through the prevention of the spread of aquatic invasive species.

 

Necessary background for students:

First class degree in Biology, Zoology, Ecology and/or a masters qualification in a related area. Some experience in field work desirable, but not essential as training provided. Willingness and ability to work outside.

Relevant UG degrees

BSc in Biology, Zoology, Ecology or related areas