"The congressional grant will be used to conduct research critical to the sustainable management of this essential species," explains Berkson. Horseshoe crabs are an important species at the center of a major controversy. Their eggs are a major source of energy for migrating shorebirds, they are harvested commercially for use as bait, and they are bled by biomedical companies to produce a chemical critical to protecting public health.
Virginia Tech's HCRC is the largest horseshoe crab research institution in the country. "Congress has requested that new research be conducted to improve horseshoe crab management, and the federal government has asked Virginia Tech's center to do it," says Berkson.
The new funding will support research being conducted by Berkson and other researchers in the fisheries and wildlife department, including Jim Fraser, David Hata, and Marcella Kelly; Randy Wynne, associate professor of forestry; and Jeff Waldon and Scott Klopfer of the Conservation Management Institute in the College of Natural Resources.
Research will include a trawl survey (counting the number of crabs in a given area) to estimate population size; a study to identify historic, current and probable future spawning habitat through geographic information systems; a study to determine the feasibility of using aerial photography to expand the coverage of spawning surveys (how often and where the crabs are laying their eggs); and a study to investigate the dynamics between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.
Funding came through the efforts of Senators John Warner and George Allen of Virginia, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, and Representatives Rick Boucher and Frank Wolf of Virginia.
The money is allocated to Virginia Tech but research will be a collaboration including federal and state governments as well as non-governmental organizations.
The HCRC was established in October 2001 to provide information that will lead to better management practices on the horseshoe crab resource. The HCRC is developing management practices that will lead to a sustainable supply of horseshoe crabs for shorebirds, fishermen and the biomedical industry. Virginia Tech's HCRC is the only research program in the country dedicated to this task.
The College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech consistently ranks among the top five programs of its kind in the nation. Faculty members stress both the technical and human elements of natural resources and instill in students a sense of stewardship and land-use ethics. Areas of studies include environmental resource management, fisheries and wildlife sciences, forestry, geospatial and environmental analysis, natural resource recreation, urban forestry, wood science and forest products, geography, and international development.