At the top of Tasmania there is a tiny creature that only lives in a very small area, and of which very little is known.
Today citizen scientists have the chance to help find out more about the endangered central north burrowing crayfish.
The breed of crayfish only occurs in a 512 square kilometre patch of Tasmania’s north and north-west.
The Bookend Trust is inviting people to help survey the crustaceans in Devonport, in a program run by Devonport City Council, Cradle Coast Natural Resource Management (NRM) as well as the trust.
“This is about democratising science, and having a great deal of fun along the way,” said Dr Clare Hawkins, Bookend Trust’s citizen science coordinator.
“This is the beginning of a project called Claws on the Line, which we are looking to expand next year … it’s about incorporating the public in scientific endeavours.
“That will hopefully not only inform us about these rare and endangered species in the state, but also enthuse new generations of scientists and the general public’s interest in what we do,” Dr Hawkins said.
Crayfish research inspiring students
Students from Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport were invited on Thursday to trial the project.
Matthew, 11, said the outing had changed his mind about science.
“I thought science was boring, being in a room, this is a lot of fun. When I grow up I would like to be a scientist,” he said.
“These things are near where I live, but I’d never really thought about them until today, it’s pretty cool.”
The field trips project came out of the Land Manager grants of $7,000 that the Cradle Coast NRM funded through the National Landcare Program.
“This event raises the awareness of threatened species, and the role of ecosystems that support the survival of the endangered central north burrowing crayfish,” Iona Flett, Cradle Coast Authority NRM Project Officer said.
The crayfish form burrows with entrances that protrude from the Earth and look like chimneys that can be up to 40 centimetres high.
The animal feeds on decayed matter in the soil — they also eat worms and other small insects.
The species is threatened by urban expansion into its habitat, which is strictly limited between the Don River and Sheffield, Dr Hawkins said.
“Housing, agriculture, the use of land are some of the major threats to this unique species,” she said.
“Because they inhabit areas just beneath the surface, even heavy animals like cows can destroy their burrows. And you won’t find them anywhere else in the world besides this small parcel of territory in our state.”
Dr Alastair Richardson, a world expert on crayfish, said Tasmania was full of rare animals about which little was known.
“We don’t even have a clear picture on whether this specific animal is declining or has a stable population, there are all sorts of things we need to know and just haven’t had the people on the ground to be able to achieve that,” he said.
“But with public help we can answer some of these big questions, and perhaps have a clearer picture of how to ensure the survival of the species for future generations.”