Developing and Evaluating New Techniques to Selectively Control Invasive Plants

This project and the insights from an assessment of annual and spatial variability of curlyleaf pondweed populations and the response of curlyleaf and native plants to early season herbicidal control enabled researchers to assess the effectiveness of management strategies and make recommendations for improvements. Biological control of Eurasian watermilfoil with herbivorous insects is potentially cost-effective and biologically sound method of control.

Curlyleaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) and Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophylum spicatum) are the most widespread and problematic invasive aquatic plants in Minnesota. Approaches to improve their management are needed to reduce economic and ecological costs of invasive control. We collated and analyzed pre-existing data on curlyleaf pondweed from 60 lakes across Minnesota to provide an analysis of factors affecting curlyleaf abundance. For untreated lakes, productivity (prior summer Secchi depth) and over winter conditions were important with greater abundance in lakes with higher productivity and milder overwinter conditions (shorter duration of ice cover and lesser snow depth). For herbicide treated lakes, consecutive years of treatment was also important; abundance decreased with more years of treatment. There were diminishing returns from repeated treatment and populations can rebound quickly once treatment stops. Mild winters will likely result in more abundant populations that spring.

Potential biological controls are available for Eurasian watermilfoil. For this project, we focused on assessing factors liming the milfoil weevil and other herbivores. We conducted enclosure experiments to assess the effect of sunfish predation on herbivore and milfoil abundance. Enclosures were placed in two lakes and stocked with 0, 5 and 20 sunfish. Weevil populations developed in the enclosures but there were no differences in weevil abundance or milfoil biomass due to fish stocking. We were unable to recover stocked fish from the enclosures and suspect that predation by herons removed the fish. We assessed herbivore abundance in metro lakes and found milfoil weevils in 12 of the 19 lakes surveyed. Abundance was higher in 2015 than 2016 but abundance both years was lower than some prior years. Milfoil weevil abundance was negatively correlated (r=-0.44) with sunfish abundance but only 1 weevil was found in over 450 sunfish stomachs examined. Further work accounting for environmental variability is needed to identify factors limiting milfoil herbivores.

Project manager: Ray Newman

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Project start date: 2013

Project end date: 2016