Tarleton biology professor awarded grant to study crawfish frog


STEPHENVILLE (September 12, 2019) — Tarleton biology professor Russell Pfau has been awarded a $100,000 grant to study a potentially threatened species in Texas.

The grant, from Texas Parks and Wildlife, targets the crawfish frog. Populations of the crawfish frog appear to be declining, perhaps due to the loss of their prairie habitat. It is listed as endangered or in decline in several states.

Prairies are among the most threatened landscape in the United States, with 95 percent having been lost to agriculture and urban development.

“Conservation and management decisions for the crawfish frog can be informed by understanding genetic differences among potentially isolated populations and how much genetic diversity each population has. That’s what this project is all about,” Dr. Pfau said. “Conservation biologists strive to protect genetically unique populations in order to preserve biological diversity, and populations with low genetic diversity are at greater risk of extinction.”

The crawfish frog is so named because it spends most of its time underground in the burrows of crawfish. Rarely are they seen above ground except during breeding season — late winter and early spring — when the males participate in a raucous chorus to attract mates.

About the size of the palm of your hand, the frog has a unique color pattern — irregular brown spots on a background of tan.

“Its spots remind me a bit of a giraffe’s spots,” Pfau said.

The grant-funded project will last four years, with the first two focused on collecting DNA from frogs and the second two on genetic analysis, interpretation, drafting a report to Texas Parks and Wildlife, and submitting a manuscript for publication.

Pfau and undergraduate and graduate students working in his lab will first extract DNA from crawfish frogs in eastern Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Then thousands of pieces of DNA will be sequenced from each individual to provide the raw data necessary to examine genetic divergence and diversity.

This information will be used to guide decisions about listing the crawfish frog as threatened or endangered in Texas.

Pfau is collaborating on the project with Dr. Toby Hibbitts at Texas A&M in College Station, who is responsible for collecting toe snips from frogs and conducting analyses to determine imperilment of the species.

“Genetic techniques have advanced so much since my graduate training that it has been difficult to keep up,” Pfau said. “But thanks to the experiences afforded by my developmental leave and funding provided by the Academic Circle, I’ve been able to learn these techniques and perfect my skills before applying them to this study. That’s what I’ve been focusing on this summer.”


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