Ecology and biology of invasive hybrid watermilfoil in northern tier waterbodies

Eurasian watermilfoil is the most widely managed aquatic invasive plant in the United States. Recently in Minnesota, it has started hybridizing with native Northern watermilfoil, resulting in a new hybrid watermilfoil. This is of concern due to reports of increased invasiveness, greater success, and evidence of herbicide resistance of the hybrid. However, these patterns have not been examined in the field.

Therefore, rigorous investigation of the ecology and invasiveness of this species is needed to inform evaluation of impacts and prioritization of management efforts. This study will help identify which invasive hybrid milfoil populations pose the greatest threat to public resources and that may warrant more aggressive responses. The project will address:

  1. How growth of hybrid watermilfoil compares with that of parental milfoil species, and whether performance varies among hybrid populations
  2. What the magnitude and outcome of competitive interactions are when the hybrid co-occurs with Eurasian and native watermilfoil
  3. How the phenology of hybrid compares with Eurasian and native, and whether it varies within hybrid populations

Progress:

Between May 2017 and November 2018, researchers conducted repeat surveys of watermilfoil beds at nine lakes (3 lakes per species) in Minnesota to examine the timing and amount of surface matting, flowering, and stem growth. They found that in general, hybrid watermilfoil produced more flowers and flowered earlier than Eurasian or Northern watermilfoil, though this varied between years. Hybrid watermilfoil had greater overall surface matting than Eurasian watermilfoil and consistently more than Northern watermilfoil. Hybrid watermilfoil produced an intermediate number of stems compared to Eurasian and Northern watermilfoil.

Overall, this study provides field-based evidence of hybrid vigor in Hybrid watermilfoil. Specifically, earlier and increased flowering may increase Hybrid spread and provided a competitive advantage over parental species. Additionally, increased surface matting may shade out native species to a greater degree than parental species. This study underscores the importance of distinguishing hybrid watermilfoil from either Eurasian or Northern watermilfoil, as some lakes infested with Hybrid will likely require different management strategies.

Findings:

We compared the growth and phenology of hybrid watermilfoil (M. spicatum × M. sibiricum; HWM) to its parental species, Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum; EWM) and native northern watermilfoil (Myriophyllum sibiricum; NWM), by examining the timing and amount of: 1) surface matting, 2) flowering, and 3) stem growth. In general, HWM produced more flowers and flowered earlier than EWM and NWM, though this varied between years. HWM had greater overall surface matting than EWM and NWM. While there was between-year variability, HWM surface matting was consistently greater than NWM. Lastly, HWM produced an intermediate number of stems compared to EWM and NWM. This study provides field-based evidence of hybrid vigor in HWM. Specifically, earlier and increased flowering may increase HWM spread and provide a competitive advantage over parental species. Moreover, increased surface matting may shade out native species to a greater degree than parental species. This study demonstrates the importance of distinguishing HWM from parental EWM and NWM, as some HWM infested lakes may require different management strategies.

Pilot work in Minnesota has shown that starry stonewort populations and growth patterns of can vary between years and between lakes in different locations. These patterns suggest that how starry stonewort invades a lake could be influenced by climatological factors such as ice-out date, growing season length, and average water temperature. If this is the case, then developing effective management strategies for starry stonewort requires a deeper and more specific understanding of how climate change will influence the invasion dynamics of the species. 

The project includes:

  • An empirical study of starry stonewort invasion dynamics in nine lakes across latitudinal gradients in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana.
  • Interviews with AIS managers and decision-makers in Wiscnsin, Minnesota and Indiana to examine invasive species management perceptions and preferences as they relate to starry stonewort.
  • Modeling starry stonewort invasion patterns under a range of climate and management scenarios. 

This project will provide practical information on the ecology of starry stonewort, a summary of current stakeholder preferences around starry stonewort management, as well as an evaluation of optimal management strategies.

The study is one component of a larger research project that is funded by the Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative administered by the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University

Project manager: Dan Larkin

Funded by: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Project state date: 2016

Project end date: 2019

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