October 2014 Letter from the Director
Currently, MAISRC supports the research of five lead investigators and their teams. They are working to answer questions we believe are crucial for devising better ways to slow and reverse the spread of species such as Asian Carp, watermilfoil, and zebra mussels. Some of the specific questions include: Is there a virus that could act as biological control of Asian carp? What are the key pathways of zebra mussel spread in Minnesota? To answer any of these “big” AIS questions, a research team must conduct many specific studies, often spanning laboratory assays, controlled experiments, and field surveys. MAISRC must choose its research questions strategically because each is a major commitment of resources: people, facilities and equipment, time, and money.
How do we select research questions? First, we need to identify which species pose the biggest risks to Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Species that are rapidly spreading, like zebra mussels, and others, like milfoil, that defy current control options are obvious choices. But there many more –over 50 species – that potentially could be problems in the not-too-distant future. It can take a decade or more to devise new solutions, so we need to assess which ones deserve pre-emptive attention. Top candidates are species that are problematic in nearby states. Second, for each priority species, we determine what research has already been done by other scientists, and based on their published research findings, identify the key uncertainties posing barriers to better management. Input from AIS managers is also important, to learn what they are experiencing and observing in the field. What do they need to know to have more success beating aquatic invasive species?
At this point, the list of potential research questions is huge—greatly exceeding what we can attempt, even if MAISRC had many more scientists. We need to prioritize based on the likelihood that answering the question is feasible, whether we can attract scientist(s) with the necessary expertise, and how important the question is relative to the resources needed to answer it. Once we have a short list of questions, proposals are developed and funding is sought. We add new topics to our current research portfolio as new funding becomes available.
The process I’ve just described is what we call a Research Needs Assessment. Because the realm of aquatic invasive species is rapidly changing, MAISRC should assess research needs much more frequently than most other kinds of scientific research centers—in fact we’re assuming we’ll do this annually. Our first comprehensive research needs assessment is happening this fall. We’ve established an assessment team of MAISRC scientists, agency biologists and AIS managers from Minnesota, and national experts who will recommend new research questions to add to our current slate of work. This assessment will only be as good as our initial list of possible questions, so we hope to tap the expertise of everyone in Minnesota who has been working to stem the advance of AIS. You can contribute your research ideas online (details are provided in this newsletter) until November 1 – it will only take a few minutes and will help make the assessment more robust.
Thanks your continued support of MAISRC and all of your efforts to preserve the quality of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and wetlands for future generations.
Dr. Susan Galatowitsch
Director, Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center