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Our crayfish expert’s research published in prestigious journal

Premek Hamr with crayfish

Premek Hamr shows off a giant crayfish from Tasmania.

Upper Canada College environmental systems and biology teacher Premek Hamr’s research on crayfish has been published by 350-year-old Royal Society Publishing.

“It’s very prestigious because Darwin’s theory of natural selection was initially published there,” says Hamr of the publishing division of the Royal Society, which has included “Multiple drivers of decline in the global status of freshwater crayfish (Decapoda: Astacidea)” in the February 2015 issue of Philosophical Transactions B.

Hamr and 41 other crayfish experts from around the globe conducted research for the paper for five years as they catalogued the world’s 590 freshwater crayfish species and examined where and why they’re most endangered. Hamr researched, supplied data and commented on all species in Canada and part of Tasmania, Australia, where he received his Ph.D in zoology.

“I contributed and analyzed all the data and then I edited the analyzed data and text on Canada and Tasmania and then sent it back to the principal author, who is Nadia Richman from the Zoological Society in London,” says Hamr.

“She also works for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is the international body of scientists that looks at endangerment. They put out the list of endangered species internationally for the whole world. So we reviewed crayfish for the whole world and this is the paper that summarizes it. The IUCN gets all of its listings from this study. They list every species in the world and their status online.”

Hamr is a senior member of the International Crayfish Society and has researched the crustaceans for 30 years. Everything he’s done on Canadian crayfish was used in the paper.

“In Canada, none of our species are considered to be endangered because they have populations that occur south of the border,” Hamr says. “So, in some ways, the data is deficient in Canada. We have threatening factors, but our species are not listed just because there are big populations south of us.”

The biggest threats to crayfish native to Canada are three types of invasive crayfish, with one in particular that’s quite aggressive.

“It’s spreading all over Ontario, and into Quebec and Manitoba now, and is replacing certain species of Canadian crayfish,” says Hamr. “Not all of them, but certain groups are being endangered.”

Draining wetlands are also a problem for crayfish in southern Ontario, and they’ve disappeared from Hamilton to Oshawa as marshes have disappeared and shorelines have been paved over and built up for human use. But UCC’s Norval Outdoor Education Centre is playing a role in protecting crayfish, and data from it figures in the newly published paper.

“We have a healthy population of burrowing crayfish at Norval because they’re protected in a wetland,” says Hamr. “It’s one of the best remaining populations near the lower Great Lakes. All of the other populations are slowly being decimated by wetland draining.”

Completing a review of this global magnitude takes a lot of work by a lot of people, and Hamr was honoured to have contributed to a paper that will be cited frequently for years to come.

“I’ve done other studies that have gotten some really interesting results and, scientifically, I think they’re in some ways more interesting,” says Hamr when asked where this accomplishment ranks on his list of career highlights when it comes to working with crayfish. “But this one is certainly up there in the top three.”

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