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Introduction

The family Parastacidae contains all freshwater crayfish found naturally occurring in the southern hemisphere. Although widespread, with representatives occurring in South America, Madagascar (Fig. 2), and New Zealand, the family achieves by far its greatest diversity within Australia (Fig. 1). Over 85% of the known species of parastacid crayfish are from Australia. Similarly, nine of the 14 genera presently recognized within the Parastacidae are restricted to the Australian continent and nearby islands (including southern New Guinea) (Hobbs, 1988; Hobbs, 1991). The Australian freshwater crayfish fauna is unique and highly diverse, both in terms of species richness and in ecological and morphological diversity. This fauna contains the largest known freshwater invertebrate (Astacopsis gouldi [Clark]) and the highly evolved "land crayfishes" (e.g. Engaeus) which are able to complete their entire life cycle independent of surface water. In terms of the number of species, morphological variability, and ecological diversity, Australia's freshwater crayfish fauna is rivalled only by that found in the south east of the USA (for examples of Australian crayfish diversity, see Merrick, 1993).

Figure 1. Distribution of the 10 Australian Parastacid genera (from Hobbs 1988).

Figure 2. Distributions of the remaining Parastacid genera. Note that there is an overlap of Parastacus and Samastacus in central Chile that is not depicted very well in the graphic.

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