New atlas website maps crayfish locations across the U.S.

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

Researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) have developed the new American Crayfish Atlas, the first website to provide nationwide coverage of crayfish distributions, showing where crayfish species have been found and the extent of their ranges.

When using the American Crayfish Atlas, viewers can select specific species to find their range across the U.S., select information for a particular state, and use zoomable maps to learn which crayfish species are in their area.

Prior to the atlas, those seeking information on crayfish distributions might have discovered that the information found online is either difficult to find or is state-specific, making it hard to realize species’ full ranges.

“There was an obvious need for readily available crayfish distribution data for the entire U.S., not only for professional biologists, but also for the public to see which species were found within 10 miles of where they live,” said INHS curator Chris Taylor, who envisioned and then co-developed the atlas with one of his graduate students.

The atlas contains more than 43,000 records, gleaned from the INHS crustacean collection and from over 50 sources, including museums and the research literature and various institutions and state agencies, whose information had not been cataloged or made visible online.

Taylor and graduate student Caitlin Bloomer have ensured that the website data have been quality controlled. In developing the site, they looked for possible misidentifications, outdated taxonomy, and other errors in the historical data, such as wrong numbers in geographic coordinates that would indicate the incorrect location or the wrong species name. This process continues as they add records.

“Crayfish taxonomy has been changing rapidly in the last decade or so, with several new species described in the last few years,” Bloomer said. “This means that you must look through every Excel file that comes in and make sure all the scientific names have been updated.”

The atlas is particularly valuable for researchers and state and federal management agencies involved in making crayfish conservation assessments, Taylor said. One of the primary criteria to evaluate the species of greatest conservation need is the total extent of their range.

With the atlas, groups and agencies can quickly and accurately determine the ranges for various crayfish species. The site will also assist researchers in their crayfish studies and provide information for anyone who would like to know which species of crayfish may be found in an area or which species they might have seen while outdoors.

“Hopefully, the atlas will help spark research interests and garner more interest in these charismatic little crustaceans,” Bloomer said.

The American Crayfish Atlas can be found at

Media contact: Chris Taylor, 217-244-2153,

This story first appeared on the Prairie Research Institute blog. Read the original article.

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