Computational Biology Institute Updates Classification for Freshwater Crayfishes

WASHINGTON, DC (August 8, 2017) A new paper published in the Journal of Crustacean Biology provides an updated classification system that includes all the known crayfishes worldwide. The study, by Keith A. Crandall, PhD, Director of the Computational Biology Institute at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, makes available a single, comprehensive taxonomic summary of all the recognized species of crayfish of the world.

Freshwater crayfishes are a group of decapod crustaceans that have played a critical role in a diversity of biological studies, from physiology, to ecology, neurobiology, conservation, and evolution. Central to many of these fields of study is the dependence on a robust taxonomic framework for accurate communication relating to species diversity and associated attributes. Despite a huge body of taxonomic work, there has never been a single, comprehensive taxonomic summary of all the species of crayfish of the world.

The classification by Crandall’s team results in two superfamilies (Astacoidea and Parastacoidea), five families, 38 genera, and 669 species (692 including distinct subspecies). The researchers provide a checklist of all species and include validated taxonomic authorities, type localities, figure references, and synonyms. They also provide arguments for this revised classification. The updated and complete classification aims to provide a robust framework for future studies of the freshwater crayfishes of the world.

“It is really exciting to finally have a single source for the world’s freshwater crayfish taxonomy,” said Crandall. “Such a resource will impact a wide variety of fields that rely on crayfishes as study organisms. We hope it will also advance conservation efforts of these keystone species of highly endangered freshwater ecosystems.”

Crayfishes are crustaceans that look like lobsters, but inhabit freshwater, including streams, ponds and lakes. Crayfish (or crawfish) help researchers answer basic questions in biology leading to medical advances and serve as bioindicators for freshwater quality that aid public health efforts, Crandall says.

The paper "An updated classification of the freshwater crayfishes (Decapoda: Astacidea) of the world, with a complete species list" was published August 8 in the Journal of Crustacean Biology. The study was funded by the US National Science Foundation and the Biodiversity Synthesis Center.

The Computational Biology Institute (CBI), which is based at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, brings together leading faculty in biology, medicine and computer science to open new doors of discovery in biology, public health, medicine and other fields. CBI and its staff have already started to unlock information that might lead to better treatments or prevention of human diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s as well as new and emerging diseases.