February 2019 newsletter

Letter from the Director nick phelps

Hello from MAISRC!

It may be cold outside, but things are heating up at MAISRC. After issuing a Request for Proposals in November, we received a record 24 pre-proposals! All of the projects address high-priority research needs to prevent, control, and manage AIS in Minnesota as determined by our research needs assessment process. This is our fourth RFP, and every year I am energized and excited by the submissions we receive. The next step for selected pre-proposals will be for project managers to incorporate feedback, expand the content, and be sent out for external peer-review. Look for an announcement in June about which projects were selected!

The downside of this exciting RFP process is that we can’t fund all the projects we wish we could. We are extremely grateful for the grant-based funding we receive from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, but long-term, stable funding is critical to our success. When we first attempted to secure stable funding 2017, we were humbled by the outpouring of support we received from legislators and concerned citizens alike; however, our original funding request was cut by 74%. This legislative session, we’re making another push to secure stable funding through the General Fund - special thanks to Sen. Ruud and Rep. Persell for their help to get us on the right path. We’ll be sure to update you as the bill progresses. Thanks in advance for your support!

Time to get back to the lab…

nick signature


SMART carp hold promise for biocontrol of common carp  carp

MAISRC researchers have made significant progress toward developing a first-of-its-kind biocontrol approach to combat invasive common carp using Sterile Male Accelerated Release Technology (SMART) carp. A key hurdle – having access to carp embryos year-round – was recently cleared with the creation of a lab system that facilitates out-of-cycle spawning.

Going forward, researchers plan to have the carp produce sperm and eggs year-round by changing husbandry protocols. Off-cycle embryogenesis was demonstrated by inducing captive carp to deposit eggs, which were then fertilized. The offspring are now being reared in the MAISRC Containment Lab. Establishing these year-round carp transgenesis capabilities will allow researchers to perform genetic engineering experiments routinely in the future.

Going forward, researchers will use fin clippings from 500 wild-caught common carp to conduct a genetic diversity screen, which will inform the genetic engineering efforts. They will also be producing transgenic juvenile fish, which is the critical first step toward the male incompatibility system.

Ultimately, this genetic engineering work aims to lead to the development of sterile males. When these males mate with wild females, they will produce no offspring. This control option is being modeled and weighed against other control options such as physical and chemical controls. An assessment of public opinion and attitudes on genetically modifying invasive species is also underway.

These modern genetic engineering tools enable new strategies for the control of invasive species. If this project is successful, it could lead to implementation of this technology in other AIS, such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.

Common carp are one of Minnesota’s most ubiquitous invasive species. They dominate the fish biomass of many shallow lakes in central and southern Minnesota. They degrade water quality and destroy waterfowl habitat by rooting in the lake bottom while searching for food. Learn more about their impacts here, and find more details about this research project here.


Are zebra mussels hitching a ride on your boat? zebra mussels

MAISRC researchers recently completed a project assessing the risk of zebra mussels spreading in the residual water left in boats after they’ve been drained. The first-of-its-kind study found that although veligers can be found in very small amounts of water, ballast tanks contained the largest number of zebra mussel veligers. The study also found that veligers can survive for a couple of days in residual water, emphasizing the importance of taking additional steps such as hot water decontamination when going between lakes.

The first phase of this project focused on assessing how many veligers could be found in the residual water of boats. Samples were collected from over 250 boats leaving Lake Minnetonka and Gull Lake. Samples were collected from hard and soft ballast tanks, sterndrive engines, live wells, foot wells, splash wells, bilges, and jets. Of these compartments, veligers were found in ballast samples 97% of the time. Veligers were found in 89% of sterndrive engines, meaning that these two compartments have the greatest likelihood of transporting veligers.

The second phase of this study included experimental mortality trials on veligers in two common boat compartments: live wells and ballast tanks. The lives wells were exposed to air temperatures of 20, 27, 32, and 38 °C; the ballast tanks were exposed to 20 and 32 °C. For veligers in the residual water of live wells, > 95% mortality was observed after five hours of exposure to all temperatures. The same level of mortality was reached in ballast tanks at 48 hours. This tells us that watercraft equipped with ballast tanks are at a greater risk of transporting live veligers to new water bodies over short trips.

Both aspects of this research tell us that extra steps -- such as hot water decontamination -- should be taken by boat owners to minimize the likelihood of introducing live veligers to new water bodies via overland transport. Providing on-site decontamination services can help reduce the risk of spreading invasive species. Additionally, the nationally recognized suggestions to dry your watercraft for five days or more (Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!) drastically reduces the risk of transporting living zebra mussel veligers to new water bodies. It’s important to remember that veliger movement is one possible method for spread; it’s currently unknown how many veligers are needed to create a new zebra mussel infestation.  The movement of adults still remains a higher risk.

Going forward, members of this research team are working with the American Boat and Yacht Council to relay findings and discuss options for redesigning boats that could help limit the spread of AIS.

Learn more about this research in this Pioneer Press story or on our website. The full thesis, Occurrence and Survival of Zebra Mussel Veliger Larvae in Residual Water Transported by Recreational Watercraft, is available here. Thank you to the Brunswick Freshwater Boat Group, Brunswick Public Foundation, and Tonka Bay Marina for funding this research!

Let your voice be heard about invasive Phragmites phragmites

The Minnesota Noxious Weed Advisory Committee is currently accepting public comments on the state’s noxious weed classification process. The Noxious Weed Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture related to the state regulatory status of noxious or invasive terrestrial plants (including most wetland species). Depending on the regulatory status of a species, Noxious Weed Law may require control or eradication of a species or prohibit its importation, sale, and transport.

Invasive Phragmites is currently considered a restricted noxious weed, as opposed to a prohibited noxious weed. This classification prohibits the “importation, sale, and transportation” of the plant but falls short of requiring control or eradication. Recent research from MAISRC on the distribution and spread of Phragmites supports the need for a coordinated response involving control efforts to prevent this invasive wetland plant from become a widespread problem in Minnesota.

The Committee’s operations follow a three-year cycle in which species are assessed based on the latest scientific information. This year, the Committee will reconsider species for which it has completed risk assessments in the past. The Committee will decide which species to reassess in their meeting on February 27th. While the Committee’s recommendation regarding a species’ regulatory status will ultimately be based on scientific information included in the risk assessment, the public is encouraged to provide comments on species they think should be reassessed.

Is there a terrestrial or wetland plant species you believe should have a different classification under Noxious Weed Law, for which the Noxious Weed Advisory Committee has already conducted a risk assessment? Is there recent scientific evidence that supports a change in classification? If so, share your concerns with the Committee member whose position best represents you. Be sure to contact your representative on the Committee before their meeting on February 27th!

Invasive Phragmites is a tall, aggressively growing grass that can take over large areas of wetland and shoreline, push out native vegetation, and reduce habitat quality for wildlife. In Minnesota, it is a cryptic invader because native Phragmites is present as well. Researchers at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center are mapping the current distribution of Phragmites in Minnesota, determining its capacity for further spread, and developing management protocols for responding to different invasion scenarios. Click here to learn more about Phragmites and MAISRC’s research.

More information:

AIS Detectors workshop schedule announced detectors

Would you like to join a trained network of volunteers and be part of the solution to the AIS problems in Minnesota? Become an AIS Detector! As an AIS Detector, you will serve a critical role in improving Minnesota’s capacity to detect, respond to, educate about, and manage aquatic invasive species. The program entails an online course taken at your own speed, and a one-day, in-person workshop where you will apply the knowledge and skills that you learned in the online course. Workshop dates and locations are as follows:

  • May 3: Arden Hills -- Ramsey County Conservation District Facility
  • May 4: Farmington -- Dakota County Extension & Conservation Center
  • May 17: Willmar -- Willmar Conference Center
  • June 7: Backus -- Cass County Land Services Building
  • June 8: Fergus Falls -- American Legion Post 30

Stay tuned to our website for more information about the AIS Detectors program!

Now hiring: zebra mussel research fellow

MAISRC is seeking to support a Research Fellow that will develop creative and promising solutions for population-level control of zebra mussels in Minnesota lakes. Established zebra mussel populations can wreak havoc on lake ecosystems and while spot treatments exist, no options are currently available for large-scale control. Building on ongoing research in the areas of chemical, biological and genetic control, MAISRC aims to advance the science in one or more of those areas and move towards real-world application. Please click here for more information.

Support MAISRC with a gift today

Our researchers are working diligently all across the state to address the AIS issues that are threatening Minnesota’s waters. Help us do this critical work with a gift today -- private contributions to MAISRC make a real difference and provide us with the flexibility to meet critical needs as they arise. Thank you!