New grant will help address invasive species problems in Great Lakes

Author: William G. Gilroy


The eightGreat Lakesstates have an estimated 3.7 million registered recreational boats, which is one-third of the nations total number. An estimated $16 billion industry, recreational boating in the Great Lakes region is two-and-one-half times larger than commercial navigation on theGreat Lakes.

Few, if any, of these recreational boaters realize that they are key actors in the drama of invasive species in theUnited States.

Now, University of Notre Dame biologist David Lodge, The Nature Conservancys Great Lakes Program,UniversityofGeorgiaresearchers, and other private and public partners are combining their scientific and management expertise to assess the risk of future invasive species invasions. Funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, the researchers hope to improve ecosystem-wide management of these species in the lakes and adjacent inland water bodies.

Our goal is to develop tools and then to apply these tools to the forecasting of invasive species in theGreat Lakes,Lodge said.This project scales from the species distributed by global patterns of shipping, through the Great Lakes as a regional epicenter for invasions of North America, to local management of species spreading from theGreat Lakesto inland aquatic ecosystems.

The Great Lakes are a key beachhead for invasions of invasive species into theUnited States. Ships arrive atGreat Lakesdestinations from ports throughout the world, often bearing non-native species in their ballast water. The water is then discharged into the lakes.

Recreational boaters subsequently use theGreat Lakes, unaware that in the process invasive species are now residing on their boats and trailers. The boaters later introduce the species into other inland waterways they use for recreation.

Lodge notes that researchers will first rank the major ports of the world in order of the threat they pose as a source of invasive species to theGreat Lakes.

This risk assessment will be based on environmental similarity, such as salinity and temperature, and on the identification of potentially harmful species that inhabit ports that are linked by shipping to theGreat Lakes,Lodge said.We will analyze the past and existing ship traffic among high risk ports and the lakes.

The researchers also will develop novel genetic technologies to conduct real-time monitoring of selected, high-concern harmful organisms in ballast water of ships entering theGreat Lakes. Working in conjunction with Hsueh-Chia Chang of the Notre Dame Center for Microfluidics, Lodge and fellow Notre Dame biologist Jeff Feder hope to develop a hand-heldlab on a chipthat could rapidly and accurately detect invasive species in ballast water samples.

We can then derive a risk assessment for individual ships entering the Great Lakes, based on the past ports of call of each ship, the species known to occur in those ports and the presence of any species detected by this hand-held genetic probe,Lodge said.

In the final phase of the project, researchers will use network modeling to select several pilot locations that will most cost-effectively slow the spread of targeted invasive species. The project team will test the effectiveness of a series of intervention strategies, including educational activities, inspections and boat washing stations to help slow the spread of invasive species already established, but still spreading, among inland lakes and rivers.

Lodge points out that the forecasting and prevention effort involves a diverse team consisting of researchers, private stakeholders, relevant industries and state and federal agency partners.

Because scientific and management personnel will collaborate throughout the project, research questions will be tailored to management needs and results will be visualized, presented and reported in ways that address the options available to private stakeholders and management agencies while retaining the credibility conferred by independent research and peer review,he said.

Notre Dame has established a Center for Aquatic Conservation to focus greater attention on the environmental risks of diminishing water quality and quantity. The center features an invasive species initiative with The Nature Conservancy.

We need to keep new invaders out of the Great Lakes,said John Andersen, director of the Conservancys Great Lakes Program, which works to preserve native plants and animals throughout theGreat LakesBasinby protecting its lands and waters.

Prevention is more effective and less expensive than dealing with an invasive species after it has arrived and started doing damage,Andersen said.Thats why were pleased to be collaborating with leading researchers from the University of Notre Dame. We look forward to working together to inform policy and management solutions to address one of the worlds greatest threats to biodiversityinvasive species.

* Contact: * _David M. Lodge, director, Center for Aquatic Conservation, 574-631-6094,

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