There's still time to stop an invasive grass that's threatening to spread in wetlands across Minnesota, according to some scientists.
The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center is warning the state about invasive phragmites, an invasive strain of wetland grass that grows faster, taller and thicker than its native counterpart.
New boat designs can help reduce the spread of zebra mussels in Minnesota lakes and rivers. That's the finding of a new research project just completed by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center.
Boats are notorious for spreading invasive species like zebra mussels.
For the last three years, MAISRC graduate student Adam Doll has been collecting water samples from compartments in watercraft, including live wells, ballast tanks and motors. He then looked for zebra mussel larvae (veligers).
"We wanted to know where the water was, if it varied by compartment and how much was left," said Doll. "And then lastly, we wanted to know where zebra mussel veligers were."
The samples were collected from Lake Minnetonka and Gull Lake, both of which have established zebra mussel populations.
A University of Minnesota study released last week looks at ways to kill as many of one of Minnesota’s most harmful invasive species as possible.
Zebra mussels have encrusted boats, disrupted food chains and cut the feet of beach-goers across Minnesota for decades. In an effort to reduce their population, a paper released by the University in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey demonstrates the most effective ways to eradicate the inch-long critters, even in the icy waters of the North Star State.
Most chemicals used to exterminate zebra mussels are developed and tested in the warmer states located south of Minnesota, said James Luoma, a USGS researcher who was one of the leaders of the study. While these chemicals may work efficiently in warmer climates, they do not operate as well in the frigid waters of Minnesota lakes in the fall, he said.
“A lot of these infestations are found late in the year when people are removing equipment such as docks or boats,” Luoma said. “In the past, [those treating zebra mussels] did not have the information available to [determine if] a product would be effective in cold waters.”
A Washington state company attracted national attention a few years back for introducing a flexible pneumatic tube, aka the “salmon cannon,” to help launch the migrating fish past dams and other barriers.
The peculiar gadget, owned and invented by Whooshh Innovations, so captured the public’s imagination that it earned a segment on comedian John Oliver’s HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” in which Oliver lobbed fake fish at celebrities. “In your darkest moments of despair, when you see a world torn apart by war,” Oliver said with a smirk, people should remember the salmon cannon as evidence that “we can do great things.”
Now, in Minnesota, researchers are studying whether the salmon cannon could be put to a new — if morbid— task: sucking up thousands of invasive common carp from the state’s lakes and marshes.
Przemek Bajer, a research assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s center for aquatic invasive species and owner of consulting company Carp Solutions, has been working to develop the novel approach to carp management for more than a year in the Rice Creek Watershed, aided by funds from Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
For the U team, the salmon cannon brings more than flash; it has serious potential advantages over typical carp removal methods around Minnesota, which Bajer said can be time and labor intensive.
2018 was an exciting year at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center! We started the year by receiving 20 submissions to our 2018 Request for Proposals, a new record. We funded seven new projects, including evaluating the efficacy of copper-based control on zebra mussels, an economic analysis of ecosystem services as they relate to common carp, creating a new tool for eDNA collection, research into the genetic control of common carp, and more.
Over the summer, we conducted our biannual Research Needs Assessment, and collected input from over 400 stakeholders. This process directly informed our 2019 Request for Proposals, which will allow us to fund projects starting in July 2019. We hosted 270 lakeshore association members, agency representatives, researchers, and concerned members of the public at our fifth annual AIS Research and Management Showcase in September (Missed it? Save the date for next year: Sept. 18, 2019).
A Minnesota lake has become a giant, living laboratory to study invasive plants. Starry stonewort was found for the first time in our state in Lake Koronis in 2015. The aquatic invader has now spread to 13 Minnesota lakes.
Koronis is a 3,000-acre lake in Stearns County. When starry stonewort was discovered three years ago it had already taken over 250 acres; it has since doubled in size.
"It grows incredibly fast," said Koronis Lake Association board member Kevin Farnum. "It'll never go away. And that's not untypical. Most of your aquatic invasive species, you know once they're in a lake there's not really an eradication."
According to Farnum, the Koronis Lake Association has spent half a million dollars on a pilot project to get a handle on starry stonewort.
"Now the good news with that is in some of the areas we've been trying to manage is that we have had some significant reduction," he said.
When 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS visited Lake Koronis, auditors were on the water checking results of experiments. They document everything.
"We are trying to get the word out about what we're doing," said Farnum. "What our successes are, what our failures are, the timing, the mass of area, it's all important to control."
More than two years ago, the Aquatic Research Lab opened at the University of Minnesota.
Some of the research happening there is about combating zebra mussels using a specific pathogen or type of bacteria.
"Initial findings give us insights to the microbes that are enriched in zebra mussels compared to the environment," said Prince Mathai, research associate at the U of M. "Some of them are also known pathogens. So we are focusing our efforts to isolate those pathogens."
What the researchers want to do is find a pathogen that targets the zebra mussel, but nothing else.
"We don't want to introduce any kind of pathogens that are going to target native mussels," Mathai said.
Controlling and detecting aquatic invasive species is a big deal in Minnesota. In fact, the legislature has allocated $10 million a year to do just that.
At the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research and Management Showcase on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus, experts from all over the country are sharing ideas. Property owners are learning how to protect their lakes. One demonstration outside showed how difficult it is to accurately count zebra mussels in a lake.
Nick Phelps is executive director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center.
"It's incredibly important to communicate the value and the process of research here on campus so we can eventually translate that back out to the field, working directly with our stakeholders," he said.
Invasive zebra and quagga mussels don’t appear to be very widespread in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior. The preliminary findings are part of a two-year study to determine the extent of their numbers and where they originated.
The National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency detected invasive mussels in the islands in 2015 and 2016, but the invaders have been spotted on fishing nets since 2011. Since then, the agencies began working together to increase detection in the area.
As part of that, Northland College research associate Toben Lafrancois said they conducted a survey of native and invasive mussels last summer. He said they found the distribution of invasive mussels around the islands and nearshore areas is very spread out.
Here in Minnesota (and especially in the Brainerd lakes area in the summertime), we have a special relationship with water, one of our state's most important resources. As "the Land of 10,000 Lakes" water is tied closely to how we see ourselves as Minnesotans.
Water is a key resource for agriculture, mining and other industries, and it provides a connection to the nation and the world through trade on Lake Superior. And water provides a variety of recreational activities, from ice fishing to summer canoe trips. But perhaps most importantly, clean water is what Minnesotans rely on every day for cooking, cleaning and of course, drinking.
At the University of Minnesota, researchers in labs and fields across the state study, monitor and protect our water. For example: