29 November 2010

Tracking Crayfish Zero: The threat of pet crayfish

(Last week, my latest paper snuck out without me noticing. As with the last paper I co-authored this year, I wanted to tell you about the backstory that doesn't fit into the actual paper.)

“Patient Zero.”

That’s the typical name given for the first person to be found carrying a new infectious disease. The point of origin. The last time you heard the term a lot in the media was during the SARS outbreak some years ago.

That was very much the idea that was behind my newest paper.

When I started working with Marmorkrebs back in 2007, there were already people in North America who had them as pets. This struck me as odd, given that they had first been found in Europe. I got very curious. Who would have brought them overseas? And when?

I created the Marmorkrebs.org website late in 2007 (first version shown at right). During 2008, I put up a “Mail me!” link asking Marmorkrebs pet owners to contact me soon after, because I thought that might give me an idea of how long they’d been in North America.

I can’t remember the point at which I thought, “I should do this in an organized way.” Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to realize that I was going to have to do something I had never done before:

I was going to have to get IRB approval.

Because I work with invertebrates, I had never had to go through a university approval process for an experiment before. I was a little nervous, because this wasn’t just an animal experiment, but humans. And even an online survey needed an okay from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). That was an interesting. I had to undergo a little online ethics training course. There were sections of text that I needed to add to the survey, telling people about the risks of completing an online survey.

It seemed a bit odd at first. Risks? From an online survey? From what? Carpel tunnel syndrome?

Once the survey was up and running, a slow but steady stream of people started filling it in. There were enough data to send my student Steph off to the American Ecological Society meeting with a poster about it and her crayfish fighting work.

I let the survey run for about a year, though 2009 – not because that was a nice round number, but because a deadline was coming up for the journal I wanted to submit a manuscript to! I wanted to include the animal care data from the survey. With half the survey data going into the animal care paper, I took a while to figure out what to do with the rest of the data I’d collected. I wasn’t sure if I should pool it together with some other information (like the fighting research it had been paired with at the ecology meeting), or just try to get it out on its own.

It was very important for me to publish this paper in an open access journal. This paper was entirely possible because of the generosity of the people taking a few minutes to complete my survey, and I wanted them to be able to read the papers and think, “I helped with that.” I was familiar with the journal Aquatic Invasions because they had published some papers by Charlie and Gretchen Lambert, who I’d co-authored a tunicate survey with, and this journal has also published a Marmorkrebs paper last year.

When the papers were published, I emailed everyone I could, and was pleased that some of them responded that they were glad to hear about the crayfish research.

The other thing that I found interesting about this process was how it was made possible by online tools. I built the survey in Survey Monkey and plotted locations in Google Maps and Indie Mapper (which was just transitioning from a free beta version to a subscription service as I was preparing this paper). In fact, here’s the Google Map I created:

View Marmorkrebs pets in a larger map

While some journals are starting to get rid of supplemental materials, there’s no reason I can’t make and host my own.

And because a pre-print was available online and open access, this paper has already been cited by another paper - one that was officially published in the same issue of the same journal, in fact!

While I’m pleased with this short paper in many ways, I’m disappointed that I failed in one thing that I set out to do.

I wasn’t able to track down North America’s “Crayfish Zero.”

I just hope it didn’t escape.


Faulkes Z. 2010. The spread of the parthenogenetic marbled crayfish, Marmorkrebs (Procambarus sp.), in the North American pet trade. Aquatic Invasions 5(4): 447-450. http://dx.doi.org/10.3391/ai.2010.5.4.16

P.S.—Yes, I know the top picture is Prisoner Zero, not patient zero, but I don’t care.

No comments: