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Army National Guard discovers a tough little shrimp.

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Idaho National Guard biologists Jay Weaver and Dana Quinney recently made a memorable discovery: a new species of giant predatory fairy shrimp. This crustacean lives in the waters of two desert playas (temporary lakes) on the Orchard Training Area in Idaho. They published the species description, co-authored by shrimp taxonomist Christopher Rogers and professor Jorgen Olesen of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in the January 2006. Journal of Crustacean Biology. There are only two other giant predatory fairy shrimp known to science; one is found in Europe and the Middle East, and one occurs in the Oregon California desert. Many species of fairy shrimp are similar, but this new species is easily distinguished from any other kind.

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The new species belongs to the genus Branchinecta. We gave it the species name, raptor, for several reasons. First, it is a ferocious predator, preying upon smaller fairy shrimp and other small creatures. Also, the known locations for the species are inside a sanctuary for raptorial birds, the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.

Orchard Training Area

Orchard Training Area (OTA) is 138,000 acres (55,850 hectares) of desert landscape where soldiers can train on many weapon systems: Bradley fighting vehicles, M1 Abrams series tanks, Paladins (a self propelled howitzer), attack helicopters, artillery, and individual weapons. Used by the Idaho Army National Guard since the early 1950s, OTA provides excellent training for desert warfare. In 2005, many Idaho Army National Guard soldiers were deployed to Iraq.

Managing military training on OTA presents a unique challenge. It is on Bureau of Land Management property, part of the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conselwation Area. The 1993 federal law that established this special area requires that all land uses remain compatible with birds of prey, their prey, and prey habitat. Thus, the OTA has a mandate for ecosystem management not required of other military installations.

Why Author a New Species?

Why should the military identify and describe a new species? The Idaho Army National Guard environmental staff found that it is more effective to know what exists on training lands, and then to develop and implement good management plans, than to have outside entities eventually make the discoveries and develop plans without consideration of military training needs.

By co-authoring the species, the Idaho Army National Guard will be included in scientific bodies determining requirements for the species, as well as being a member of decision-making groups responsible for conservation of rare species and the management of their habitats. This enables them to represent both the interests of the species and the interests of the military during development of management guidelines or conservation measures for the species.

What Raptor Does for a Living

Raptor (the species' common name) is a very uncommon shrimp. Adults can be almost 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) long, with bright turquoise blue reproductive organs. They are armed with a bristling array of hooks, combs, spines, and projections that help them detect, capture, and hold their prey.

Typically, fairy shrimp hatch rapidly after a significant rain, and they complete their life cycle within a few days or weeks. When the temporary water dries up, the shrimp die, and only their desiccation-resistant cysts remain on the dry playa bottoms. Playa lakes may remain dry for years. The shrimp cysts persist, alive but dormant, in the baking sun and winter cold until the rains once again fill the playas and the cysts hatch, producing a new population of shrimp.

The waters where raptor occurs are as brown as chocolate milk, so the species has reduced eyes. It continually swims on its back, grasping with its large, hooked front legs at other creatures it encounters. Raptor can hold as many as four killed or disabled prey shrimp as it continues to hunt.

Raptor occurs only in winter and early spring, often living under inches-deep ice. Often, when we sample for raptor, we take an ax to chop down to the water where we drag our nets--a strange variation of ice fishing! By April, it's too warm for raptor. It dies and sinks to the bottom until winter rains fall again to fill the playa.

Though many playas have been searched, raptor has been found in only two, one inside the OTA and one outside (but near its boundary). The OTA location is a cultural site where military use has not occurred for many years, and the surrounding habitat is stable. Long-term data (17 years) demonstrate the stability of the surrounding habitat.

Since raptor's cysts are not distinctive enough to search for in dry playa bottom soil, we are now associating raptor larvae with adults, so that the presence or absence of the species in a playa can be determined even during years when the water evaporates before adults have time to appear. We are also investigating conditions necessary for the species to occur and reproduce so that we can implement good management practices.

Announcing the New Species

The Idaho Army National Guard's leadership wanted to share the excitement about the newly discovered species. In March 2005, the Guard announced the new species at a military press conference. Surprisingly, the story was picked up by news agencies around the world and appeared in almost 200 newspapers, dozens of television stations (including CNN), National Public Radio, and thousands of web sites (including National Geographic). As one reporter told me, "It's good to have a significant military environmental story that is positive."

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Dana Quinney is with the State of Idaho Military Division.
COPYRIGHT 2007 University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources
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Author:Quinney, Dana
Publication:Endangered Species Update
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:925
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