‘AIS Explorer’ Models How to Protect 10,000+ Lakes with Limited Resources

May 18, 2021


ST. PAUL, Minn. — Researchers at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center have developed an online dashboard (AIS Explorer) that predicts the introduction risk of aquatic invasive species and identifies the optimal placement of watercraft inspection locations for waterbodies across Minnesota.  

Based out of the University of Minnesota, the project team began by creating an extensive network that explains how Minnesota boaters travel between waterbodies. Additionally, researchers examined waterbodies that naturally connect with one another—e.g., chains of lakes and rivers, both of which can play a key role in the spread of AIS. With over 1.6 million data points of reported boater movements and a complex array of water connections, thousands of simulations were run to test the accuracy of AIS Explorer’s predictive capabilities. After five years of testing, AIS Explorer is ready to help Minnesota’s resource managers prioritize their AIS prevention efforts.

AIS Explorer provides guidance on two key prevention methods:

  • Surveillance: predicts the likelihood of new infestations
  • Watercraft inspections: prioritization of physical intervention at the riskiest lakes

The surveillance model incorporates the previously mentioned water connectivity and boater movement networks and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ current Infested Waters List to predict the likelihood a lake will be infested with zebra mussels or starry stonewort within the next eight years. AIS Explorer users can scroll to a local or favorite area in Minnesota to see both a color-coded map and table listing which lakes are most at-risk of infestation.

AIS Explorer provides a second modeling capability intended to support the resource distribution and prevention efforts of resource managers. The prioritization for watercraft inspections model is run at the county-level and considers the movement of boats into, within, and out of an individual county paired with “risky” boats—the predicted number of boats moving from an infested waterbody to an uninfected waterbody. During the calculations, managers can include/exclude specific lakes and consider up to four aquatic invasive species (zebra mussels, starry stonewort, spiny water flea, and Eurasian watermilfoil). The results rank the lakes within a county that should be prioritized for watercraft inspections, visualizes the point of diminishing returns from added inspections, and provide a figure that displays the optimal balance of inspections to maximize the number of intercepted risky boats.

The AIS Explorer dashboard is free and open to the public at www.aisexplorer.umn.edu. To keep the model current, the underlying aquatic invasive species data is updated as needed to account for new infestations and changing risk dynamics. Funding for AIS Explorer was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC) and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).



Short promotional video for AIS Explorer featuring Dr. Nick Phelps and Dr. Amy Kinsley > Watch on YouTube

AIS Explorer webinar presented by Dr. Nick Phelps > Watch on YouTube

Project update at MAISRC Fall Showcase presented by Dr. Amy Kinsley > Watch on YouTube


Kristin Loobeek, Communications Specialist, [email protected]