Saving burrowing crayfish discussed at Toronto Zoo symposium

How can vulnerable burrowing crayfish and their wetland habitats be protected? That’s the topic Glendon Professor Radu Guiasu addressed in his keynote speech at a research symposium at the Toronto Zoo on Nov. 5.

At The Project Crayfish Symposium, Guiasu, course director of Glendon’s Environmental & Health Studies Program in the Department of Multidisciplinary Studies, focused on the strategies that can be used to protect several burrowing crayfish species in Ontario.

"The burrowing crayfish are an important species in our wetlands. Among other things, these crayfish dig burrows underground and these burrows are frequently used as winter homes by a variety of species, including several vulnerable snake and frog species," Guiasu said. "The habitat of all wetland species, including burrowing crayfish, is rapidly disappearing. We lost about 75 per cent of our original wetlands in southern Ontario during the last 200 years or so due to human activities."

The symposium is a first step in the broader Ontario Invertebrate Awareness Initiative, which originated with scientists at the zoo. They then brought together experts from the University of Toronto, Trent University, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Ontario Nature to participate in the discussion.

Right: Radu Guiasu

The initiative is meant to coordinate research on invertebrates and raise general public awareness about their many roles in the environment and their conservation status in the province.

"Invertebrates represent more than 97 per cent of all animal species. In other words, the overwhelming majority of animals are invertebrates and yet they are very much under represented on the various lists of protected species," Guiasu said. "We know very little about most invertebrate species and there is a general lack of awareness about their significance and conservation status."

Guiasu helped to develop an agenda at the symposium for future invertebrate conservation and for monitoring programs in this province – a landmark environmental initiative with implications for many years to come.

A member of the editorial board of Crustaceana – the leading international scientific journal on crustacean research, based in the Netherlands, Guiasu has published 20 scientific articles and one scientific book, titled Entropy in Ecology and Ethology, which he co-authored with his father Silviu Guiasu, a professor in the Mathematics & Statistics Department, Faculty of Science & Engineering.

Discussing various invasive species and the need for a balanced approach in controlling them, will be the topic of his upcoming article in the Spring 2008 issue of ROM, the Royal Ontario Museum magazine.

"I am doing my best to make sure that Glendon and York become known for our contribution to science and scientific research, in addition to the work we do in the liberal and fine arts," Guiasu said.

Since arriving at Glendon in the fall of 2003, Guiasu has developed and taught seven different natural science courses. In addition, Guiasu has six years of post-doctoral research experience at the University of Toronto, where he supervised the research for 12 honours thesis students and taught an advanced fourth-year course on the topic of animal communication.

Guiasu holds a specialized honours BSc in biology from York, a BEd from the University of Toronto, an MSc in zoology from U of T and a PhD in zoology from U of T. Over the years, he has conducted extensive research in ecology, animal behaviour, conservation biology and evolutionary biology in the field, the laboratory and museum collections, including the Royal Ontario Museum.

Story submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.