October 2017 newsletter

Letter from the Director 

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

Over the last month, we have been working to update our list of prioritized research needs for our upcoming request for proposals (RFP). Experts from MAISRC’s Technical Committee, Faculty Group, and Advisory Board, as well as the DNR, have all weighed in to help inform the selections. This has once again been an interesting and productive process, resulting in what I believe to be a strong list of research needs that complements ongoing work by us and others, balances the many needs of the state, and highlights the need for building diverse, collaborative teams.

If there is any ‘bad news’ in this story, it is that there are many important questions that have yet to be answered. We knew this was true when MAISRC was created – science takes time and far more often makes incremental steps, than silver bullet discoveries. We are making significant progress, but have a ways to go. Thank you for your continued support!

The ‘good news’ is that we at MAISRC are not deterred by those unanswered questions. We will be sending the list of prioritized research needs out soon with our RFP – keep your eyes open! We hope to fund 3-5 new projects during the next cycle and continue our efforts to solve Minnesota’s AIS problems. Thank you to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund for making this work possible.

Time to get back to the lab…
nick signature
Dr. Nick Phelps, Director

Researchers successfully install electric fish guidance system to remove carp during spawning migrations whooshh

MAISRC researchers installed and tested a low-voltage electric fish guidance system in Rice Creek this month, as part of a larger, first-of-its-kind effort to remove thousands of invasive common carp during their spawning migrations. The barrier was installed now to test how carp react to it, including whether they challenge it and learn from it. An electric barrier is used in this large stream so that water and debris can still flow freely. This project is conducted in partnership with Rice Creek Watershed District and is led by Dr. Przemek Bajer.

This coming spring, about 20,000 carp will migrate from Long Lake through Rice Creek and into shallow marshes near Lino Lakes to spawn. When that occurs, researchers will use this same electric barrier to guide the fish through a chute, toward a trap, and into a technology called the Whooshh System. Whooshh was first developed to move salmon around dams in the western U.S. and is now being adapted for this purpose. (If you missed it at the Showcase, check out a video of Whooshh in action here.) When fish enter the Whooshh chamber, they are pneumatically pushed through a flexible tube and safely and quickly delivered around barriers – or in the case of invasive fish, into a cage for removal. This is the first time this technology has been used for invasive carp removal in the United States.

To make sure the barrier is working as desired, researchers tagged about 100 carp and tracked their movement electronically. They also tied small floating tags to a few of them to monitor their behavior visually – watch a video of this here. They found that nearly all carp followed the guidance system and entered the desired chute in the first 24 hours. No carp were able to swim through the barrier. Unlike other electric barriers, the system used in this study, developed by Procom Systems, uses a very mild electric field to guide the fish rather than to stun them, and is portable so that it can easily be modified to fit specific study sites and deployed within hours.

During their spawning run, carp are extremely determined to reach their destination. This migratory behavior is a unique characteristic that researchers can capitalize on for control. Although there are other options for removing common carp, such as winter seining and drawdowns, those methods are often unreliable or very expensive. This new technique developed by MAISRC researchers is significantly more effective, efficient, and sustainable.

Common carp are one of the world’s most widely introduced and invasive species of fish. They can degrade water quality and destroy waterfowl habitat by rooting in the lake bottom while searching for food. Learn more about common carp here.

Report invasive Phragmites; help inform MAISRC research phragmites

If you’ve ever seen a dense grass growing up to ten feet tall near wetlands, stormwater ponds, or along a roadside, chances are it could be invasive Phragmites, also known as common reed. MAISRC researchers are currently studying the distribution of this invasive plant, and now is the perfect time for you to get involved.

If you see Phragmites that you suspect is invasive near your home, work, or elsewhere, let us know at MNPhrag@umn.edu. MAISRC researchers will send you a kit so you can identify it, gather a sample, and mail it back to us. Researchers will use these samples to genetically confirm its non-native status (Minnesota is home to native Phragmites as well).

“In order to make management recommendations for this species, we first need to get a grip on where it is found in the state,” said researcher Sue Galatowitsch. “We need many sets of eyes on the lookout.”

In addition to mapping distribution, this project will assess the reproductive potential of Phragmites by collecting seed heads and assessing seed viability. Researchers will also determine if seed viability varies in different parts of the state due to differences in the length of the growing season or other localized conditions. Knowing whether it can spread by seed (sexually) or just vegetatively (clonally) is important; if it is spreading by seeds, which disperse by wind and water, eradication and control will likely be much more difficult and expensive.

Researchers will work with agency partners to develop management protocols for responding to different invasion scenarios. Response plans will vary based on the age and size of the invasion, how it’s reproducing, and whether the population is close to any sensitive ecological resources such as a wetlands or wild rice waters. Management actions will consider cost, feasibility, ecological benefit, and potential outcomes.

Invasive Phragmites grow significantly taller and denser than its native counterpart and can lower plant diversity, alter food webs, and reduce diversity and abundance of invertebrates, fish, and waterfowl. Without fully understanding its distribution, new invasions may go untreated while indiscriminate treatment of suspected invasions may impact the native species.

Learn more about invasive Phragmites here.

Big lake, small mussels: estimating size and distribution of zebra mussel populations zebra mussels

The first field season of a project developing underwater survey methods for zebra mussels is complete. The project will develop recommendations for using underwater surveys to estimate zebra mussel population abundance and distribution. Researchers sampled seven infested lakes using two different survey methods – distance sampling and double-observer – that will allow them to quantify zebra mussel populations and estimate detection probabilities.

Without estimates of detection probabilities, it’s extremely difficult to know the extent of a zebra mussel population in a newly infested lake, to determine appropriate rapid-response treatment options, or to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments over time. This project will create, test, and standardize sampling methods, leading to estimates of zebra mussel population size and distribution that can be compared across lakes and over time (for example, before and after treatment efforts).

Researchers visited twelve lakes this summer, and conducted SCUBA operations in seven of them. To verify their efforts, they also collected data from two SCUBA teams (the double-observer method) at two lakes. Survey efforts were concentrated around the area of infestation, with efforts decreasing as they moved farther around the lake. To conduct the surveys, divers set up 30-meter-long transects and counted the zebra mussels they could see within one meter on each side. They also recorded factors such as water clarity, percent cover, and depth. Check out an underwater video of what setting the transect and counting the mussels looks like here.

Members of the research team gave attendees of the 2017 AIS Research and Management Showcase a peek into how difficult it is to assess distribution of such small organisms by attaching pistachio shells to rocks and logs and having observers search for them. The attendees found fewer than half of the shells!

Going forward, this project is forming a partnership with students at Carleton College who will be exploring sampling methods and their utility for monitoring zebra mussels for their senior comprehensive project. Next summer, researchers will sample roughly a dozen more infested lakes to further test survey methods and provide enough data to make these methods applicable to many other lakes.

Learn more about zebra mussel research here.


Showcase presentations now available

If you missed the 2017 Aquatic Invasive Species Research and Management Showcase, you can view the presentations and posters here. Everything from understanding how AIS disrupt sport fisheries to invasional meltdowns in Minnesota lakes to decoding the zebra mussel genome is covered (and much more!). Thanks for the MPR News team, you can also peek inside our state-of-the art lab here.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implements changes at lock and dam 8

Following recommendations made by MAISRC’s Peter Sorensen, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently changed the way it operates Lock and Dam 8 on the Mississippi River in order to help prevent the upstream spread of invasive carp. These recommendations were based on research into the velocity and flow of water through the dam. Learn more about this research here.

Farewell and thank you to two MAISRC staffers

This fall, MAISRC bid a fond farewell to two team members: Becca Nash and Luis Escobar. Becca accepted a new position as the Director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. She has been an integral component of MAISRC’s success since 2012 and will be missed!

Luis recently accepted a faculty position in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech. We wish him the best!

MAISRC graduate theses

Two MAISRC graduate students recently completed their theses. Melaney Dunne conducted research on the response of aquatic macrophytes to lake management practices and the role of light in the germination of macrophyte propagules. Reid Swanson conducted research on the ability of microsatellite DNA markers and otolith microchemistry to distinguish spatially separated populations and identify recruitment sites of common carp in interconnected lake systems of the North American Midwest. Read their papers here.

MAISRC’s Josh Poole wins Kolshorn award

MAISRC graduate student Josh Poole won the coveted Outstanding Conservation Sciences Graduate Student award for the 2016-2017 school year. The award is in recognition of outstanding efforts as a M.S. student in research, teaching, publication, outreach, and fundraising in the preceding year. Congratulations to Josh!

Welcome Pat Mulcahy

Pat Mulcahy, MAISRC's new AIS program coordinator is joining the team working to develop and deliver MAISRC's extension programs (AIS Detectors, AIS Trackers, and Starry Trek).  He has already been hard at work improving the functionality of the AIS Detectors volunteer portal, creating materials for AIS Trackers online training, and more!  Pat joins us from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and holds a MS in applied marine and watershed science from California State University, Monterey Bay and a BS in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Welcome Pat!


Support MAISRC on Give to the Max Day!

Give to the Max Day is coming up on Thursday, November 16. It’s a quick, easy way to support the crucial work going on at MAISRC. We’re working every day to develop research-based solutions that can reduce the impacts of aquatic invasive species in Minnesota by preventing spread, controlling populations, and managing ecosystems. Your gift will help propel our groundbreaking research projects on starry stonewort, spiny waterflea, zebra mussels, and other invasive species forward. We need all hands on deck in this effort. Thank you!