New model suggests high percentage of Minnesota lakes susceptible to VHS
You probably already know about the risks that Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia virus poses to Minnesota’s waters. The pathogen – which has been found in all five Great Lakes and inland lakes in Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin – is unsightly and deadly to 34 species of fish. Moreover, it can survive in water independent of a host, rendering it incredibly difficult to monitor.
In order to most effectively and efficiently inform prevention efforts, researchers needed to know which lakes in Minnesota are at the highest risk for becoming infected. MAISRC researcher Dr. Luis Escobar, a postdoctoral associate working with Dr. Nick Phelps, was up to the task.
In partnership with the USGS, Escobar used remote sensing data generated by NASA satellites to determine the temperature, depth, and precipitation levels of all Minnesota lakes. By combining this data with what MAISRC researchers already know about VHS – including where it currently is found and what conditions it thrives in – Escobar was able to create a model that identifies which lakes are considered high-risk for infection.
“Unfortunately, this model shows that a high percentage of Minnesota lakes are susceptible to VHS,” said Dr. Escobar. “But, we’re still in a better position than the eastern Great Lakes area. And, having this knowledge will help us know where to dedicate the most attention in our attempts to prevent the spread of this disease.”
Going forward, researchers will use this initial model as a base and add more variables to increase the sensitivity and accuracy. Adding which fish species are present, the density of those species, and the human and natural connectivity to other bodies of water will create an even better model. Escobar and Phelps are working with other MAISRC researchers to apply similar methods to additional invasive species, such as starry stonewort, to determine risk and susceptibility.
“This is a huge step in our understanding of VHS and will no doubt help in our fight against this disease,” said Dr. Phelps. “With this information, agencies can focus prevention efforts based on evidence, not based on a hunch.”
If you see a fish kill or catch a fish that you suspect may be infected with VHS or something else, report it at z.umn.edu/fishkill. Stay tuned to our website for a soon-to-be-published paper on this topic.