Researchers from Kent State University's Department of Geology have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to study diversity, evolution and extinction in crabs, lobsters and shrimp. The $100,000, two-year grant will fund the study of this economically important, diverse group of animals whose geologic history extends back 400 million years.
KSU Geology Professor Carrie Schweitzer is the principal investigator on the project. She and co-principal investigator Rodney Feldmann, professor emeritus of geology at KSU, have worked together for 16 years, examining the evolutionary history of the Decapoda -- crabs, lobsters, and shrimp.
This study will provide the most comprehensive analysis of macroevolution of these crustaceans yet conducted, according to Schweitzer and Feldmann.
The pair plan to examine questions such as when these creatures first evolved, how have they diversified through time, how extinction events affected their diversity and how that has impacted their evolution.
"Looking at what happened to them in the past can help us to interpret what is happening now and what might happen in the future," Schweitzer said. "For example, it seems like lobsters were more diverse at different times in the past than they are now. Crabs predominate now, and we want to know why that is."
The effect of climate, sea level, the abundance of coral reef and the interactions between crabs, lobsters and other animals are some of the issues the two plan to analyze.
"The majority of the grant money will go to paying Kent State undergraduate students to work with us on the project, inputting and analyzing data," Schweitzer explained. "It also will fund some research work in Europe to look at museum collections to gather data about the presence and absence of these animals at different periods of time."
The study has significance beyond classrooms and museums.
"Many of these are food animals, and we eat them as kind of luxuries," Schweitzer said. "But that's not true in other parts of the world, where they are main sources of food."