Shania E Hurst, Zachary T Osborne, Ryan W Reihart



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Texas fatclaw crayfish dig from the groundwater up to the surface creating chimneys that the crayfish use for shelter and feeding aboveground. Little is known, however, about how these chimneys affect coastal tallgrass prairie ecosystems. We are trying to determine what determines the abundance of crayfish chimneys, and if these crayfish are ecosystem engineers that change the ways in which these ecosystems function by changing soil characteristics. How they affect the soil could determine what plants will be able to grow in the prairie. We used an existing experiment that is manipulating nutrients to determine the factors that affect the abundance of chimneys in a prairie. To estimate the amount and characteristics of the soil the crayfish were moving, we collected the chimneys themselves (n=8). Additionally, we took soil core samples from the base of the chimney, 25 cm from the chimney, and 75 cm from the chimney. Plant root simulating probes were used to measure soil plant-available nutrients. Chimneys are abundant on the prairie (1.75 per m2), and macro- and micronutrients were detrimental to chimney abundance. The soil that these crayfish are bringing up is very high in clay content that hardens to a cement of sorts. This clay is incredibly absorbent. The soil is high in sulfur, which is usually only found in places low in oxygen and could affect the surrounding plant life. Because these crayfish have a large effect in soil properties, we believe they are an ecosystem engineer in the prairies. These results highlight a need to consider crayfish presence when trying to restore a prairie.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Independent Research - Graduate

Primary Advisor

Chelse Prather, Misty K. Thomas-Trout

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium project

Cutting through “concrete”: the fatclaw crayfish as an ecosystem engineer of prairies.