August 2017 newsletter

Letter from the Director 

Hello from the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center! nick phelps

The summer field season continues to be a busy time for MASIRC researchers. Right now from my office window I can see two boats in the parking lot ready to head out to survey AIS, plus a field crew loading up a truck. There is another team in the hallway talking statistical approaches, and I am about to head across campus for a workshop on AIS risk management. A big thank you to all the researchers who have been putting in long hours to make important progress on these projects!

Of course, we’re also looking forward and have recently launched six new projects! These projects include research on zebra mussels, spiny waterflea, non-native Phragmites, and hybrid watermilfoil. Check out this announcement from July if you haven’t yet, and read on for a couple that are highlighted in this newsletter. I am excited for each project and the promise they have to provide practical management tools, fill key knowledge gaps, and advance our scientific understanding to inform decision-making.

Want to know what the research teams found on their survey today? Want to hear more about the new projects? What are the latest updates on starry stonewort, zebra mussels, and invasive carp? All of this and much, MUCH more will be presented at our upcoming AIS Research and Management Showcase on September 13.

This is my favorite event of the year, where we have the opportunity to share our research progress with our stakeholders and get feedback critical to informing our next steps.  I hope you can all attend!

Time to get back to the lab…

nick signature

Dr. Nick Phelps
Director, Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center

Hybrid watermilfoil in Minnesota: what is it, and where is it? hybrid watermilfoil

New research launched from MAISRC this summer is identifying what lakes in Minnesota have hybrid watermilfoil – a combination of invasive Eurasian and native northern watermilfoil – and learning more about its phenology and genetic makeup.

Hybrid watermilfoil is also considered invasive, and some strains have shown increased resistance to herbicide treatments and other management efforts. However, little is known about this hybrid, including what lakes it’s in, whether it’s hybridizing within a lake or if one hybrid strain is being moved among lakes, and how it’s interacting with native plant communities.

“We can’t effectively manage aquatic invasive species in lakes without knowing first exactly what species are present, and without understanding more about that species’ behavior,” said Dr. Ray Newman, lead researcher.

Researchers will sample sixty Minnesota lakes and, in partnership with experts at Montana State University, genetically identify whether the samples are Eurasian, northern, or hybrid. Then, researchers will use molecular genetic techniques on the hybrid specimens to learn more about the specific genotypes.

“Understanding the patterns of hybrid invasion and its genetic diversity will help lake managers develop and improve their management strategies,” added Newman.

Trained citizen scientists from MAISRC’s newly launched AIS Detectors program contributed to this project by helping with the sampling effort. Their efforts improved researchers’ ability to sample such a large number of sites. 

For more information about this project, visit our website or register for the 2017 AIS Research and Management Showcase to hear about it from lead researcher Ray Newman.  

New project launched to determine impacts of AIS on walleye fish

A diverse group of researchers from across the state recently launched a new project aimed at quantifying the impacts that invasive zebra mussels and spiny waterflea are having on food webs and growth rates of fish in Minnesota’s nine largest walleye-supporting lakes.
The project, led by Dr. Gretchen Hansen, a research scientist at the Minnesota DNR, will use stable isotopes to examine what walleye are eating, where in the lake they’re finding food, and at what trophic level they’re eating. Researchers will also evaluate the growth rates of young fish to establish the impact invasive species may be having.

“We know that invasives like zebra mussels and spiny waterflea reduce native zooplankton and have an impact on the food webs in these lakes,” said Hansen. “What we don’t know is whether walleye and other game fish are able to adjust to find new food sources, or what makes one walleye population more adaptable and successful than another.”

Over the course of this and next summer, researchers will gather samples of zooplankton, invertebrates, and fish from Cass, Red, Kabetogama, Rainy, Vermilion, Lake of the Woods, Leech, Winnibigoshish, and Mille Lacs, which are at varying stages and combinations of invasion from spiny waterflea and/or zebra mussels. Red Lake is currently not infested with either species. 

In addition to evaluating the food web impacts on adult walleye, researchers will examine growth rates of juvenile fish to better understand how they are impacted by, and respond to, these invasions.

“Quantifying how these AIS are disrupting the walleye food web will allow managers to set realistic goals and implement policies that could improve the fisheries in the future,” added Hansen. “It’s critical that we understand these relationships between species so we can better manage lakes.”

For more information about this project, visit our website or better yet – hear about it in person from one of the lead researchers at the 2017 AIS Research and Management Showcase!


Meet the scientists working to stop the spread of zebra mussels zebra mussels

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the recent Star Tribune series which extensively covered both how the zebra mussel scourge spread across Minnesota, and what scientists are doing to stop it.

Several cutting-edge research projects from MAISRC are covered, including how we’re sequencing the zebra mussel genome, analyzing how zebra mussels are impacting the food chain, revealing invasion sources to slow down more infestations, evaluating molluscicides, and employing biocontrol tactics.

Learn about all the zebra mussel research at MAISRC on our website.

Carp-killing virus discovered in Minnesota for first time carp virus

After thousands of dead common carp were reported in Lake Elysian (Waseca County) last month, MAISRC researchers went to work collecting and analyzing samples. It was determined that koi herpesvirus (KHV) caused the massive die-off; the first such documented case in wild fish in Minnesota.

“It’s been suspected that KHV is present in Minnesota waters,” said Dr. Nick Phelps, lead researcher on the project. “But this is the first time it’s been confirmed. This disease has moved around the world since the 1990s through the koi trade. It’s likely that this fish kill was caused by the release of a pet koi or goldfish that carried the virus. Although highly contagious to common carp, and their color variant koi, KHV does not affect humans and is not known to be lethal to other fish species.”

The bad news: This outbreak highlights the risk of introducing invasive pathogens to Minnesota waters and the possible consequences. “It isn’t just the plants and animals we need to worry about, it is the also the pathogens they carry,” added Phelps. “There are several invasive pathogens on our doorstep that could kill thousands of important sportfish next time.”

The good news: This outbreak highlights the possibility of harnessing a species-specific pathogen to be used as a biocontrol agent for AIS. To that end, MAISRC researchers have been working to identify potential pathogenic biocontrols for invasive carp, zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil. For example, Australia plans to intentionally release KHV next year to control common carp populations.

“There is a lot of research and risk assessment that needs to be done before we know if KHV is a viable biocontrol candidate to safely use in Minnesota. However, from this outbreak, we have learned that KHV is in Minnesota waters and that the associated die-off was not only lethal to invasive carp, but species-specific,” Phelps added. “We thank the folks living on that lake who reported the mortality event so we could learn from it. If you see more fish kills, native or invasive, please report them to our online database.”

You can learn more about this work on our website, or by attending the 2017 AIS Research and Management Showcase where these and numerous other innovative research projects will be presented.


Join us at the 2017 AIS Research and Management Showcase

Join us on campus on September 13 for a day full of informative talks, hands-on demos, lab tours, and more! Hear from the state's top aquatic invasive species researchers on issues like how AIS are disrupting the sportfish industry, controlling starry stonewort, stopping Asian carp in their tracks using locks and dams, getting involved with citizen science, and much more. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.

New this year, please join us for a post-event reception featuring a dozen posters on additional MAISRC research that's being conducted by postdocs, graduate students, and research assistants.

Click here to see the schedule for the day, and here to read a description of each breakout session.

AIS ID guide now available

Want to learn how to identify key aquatic invasive species, and differentiate them from their native lookalikes? Purchase your copy of the AIS Identification Guide through the University of Minnesota Bookstore here! The book is printed in full color on waterproof, durable paper and bound with an expandable binding in case additional pages need to be added. Over forty species are included, plus tips for identification, maps, and more. All proceeds benefit the research and outreach programs at MAISRC.

Report fish kills and dead mussels

If you see a fish kill event or find dead native or zebra mussels while you’re out and about this summer, please report them to MAISRC. Dead specimen can provide clues about greater ecosystem-level issues and about specific pathogens that are present. Click here to report fish kills, and to report dead mussels, send an email to with your GPS coordinates or detailed site description, and photos of the specimens. Thank you!  

MAISRC in the news                       

Corps changes operations at Lock and Dam 8 to deter Asian carp invasion (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Statewide search finds new infestation of starry stonewort (Bemidji Pioneer)

DNR launches high-tech study of food webs in Minnesota's largest walleye lakes (Star Tribune)

Guardians of the waterways (Legacy)

Is it time for new tactics? (Yankton Daily Press)

Volunteers scour Minnesota lakes for newest invasive: starry stonewort (Star Tribune)

Zebra mussel surge imperils lake life; Science battles back (Star Tribune)

Death by goldfish: Lake Elysian carp die-off caused by errant pet fish (Prior Lake American)

Out-musseling the mussels: Researcher hopeful of new tactic against invasive species (Alexandria Echo)

Invasive carp has quieted down, but 'Minnesotans should be concerned' (Duluth News Tribune)

Starry Trek comes to Beltrami County: Volunteers needed for Aug. 5 event to help search for starry stonewort (Bemidji Pioneer)

Researchers target zebra mussel young (Lakeshore Weekly News)

Minnesota Researchers First to Try New Method to Kill Zebra Mussels (KSTP)

Lake Minnetonka zebra mussel project continues (Kare11)

Researchers test new method to control zebra mussel population on Lake Minnetonka (Fox9)

Lake Minnetonka zebra mussel study tests population control (MPR News, Crookston Times)

Researchers pitch ideas for carp reduction after Six Mile Creek assessment findings (Outdoor News)

Reader Opinion: The fight against AIS (Brainerd Dispatch)

Minnesota university trains aquatic invader detectors (Fox9, KSTP, AP, St. Cloud Times)


Here at MAISRC, we’re grateful for the significant support we receive from the Minnesota Legislature and the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.  We are also thankful for the critical support from private citizens, foundations, corporations, and lake associations as we work to develop tools to detect, prevent, and control aquatic invasive species. If you or your lake association is considering a gift, consider what the Lake L’Homme Dieu Association had to say about recently making their first gift to MAISRC:

“Lake L'Homme Dieu is a beautiful 1,700 acre lake that is part of Alexandria's chain of lakes. We have had zebra mussels for approximately ten years and Eurasian watermilfoil for seven years. The milfoil has been slowly spreading despite annual chemical treatment. Starry stonewort is slowly spreading across central Minnesota

Our Association feels that scientific research is our best long term hope for controlling AIS. We encourage support for MAISRC as they work to protect our lakes.”

Thank you to the Lake L’Homme Dieu Association, and thank you to all of our partners and supporters!