Spring 2017 eNewsletter

Featured Research

Invasive Hitchhikers: Catching a Ride on Lake Currents

The ecological and economic damage caused by aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Great Lakes has placed a spotlight on the critical need for AIS prevention and control strategies. While preventing new non-native species introductions is the ultimate goal, even the best prevention efforts will never be 100% effective. Thus, managers are faced with developing responses to new invasions. Eradication of non-native populations before they establish and spread is the ideal outcome, but in many cases a safe and effective tool to control invaders does not exist. Instead, managers must implement techniques to slow the spread of AIS, making the ability to predict where species will establish and spread a valuable component of AIS management frameworks.

A research team led by Drs. Dima Beletsky (CIGLR), Raisa Beletsky (CIGLR), and Ed Rutherford (NOAA GLERL) collaborated on a project to predict the potential spread of AIS by lake currents in the Great Lakes. Their predictions focused on two species (Figure 1). Eurasian ruffe is a fish native to northern Europe and Asia that has invaded Lake Superior and northern Lake Michigan, and has characteristics similar to other fish identified as Great Lakes invaders. Golden mussel is native to China and has not yet entered the Great Lakes, but has been identified as a potential Great Lakes invader because of similarities to zebra and quagga mussels and its current take-over of South American waterways.

Figure 1: Golden mussel (left; Limnoperna fortunei) and Eurasian ruffe (right; Gymnocephalus cernua).

Using a computer model, the team predicted the dispersal of Eurasian ruffe and golden mussel larvae (i.e., very young stage) by currents in Lakes Michigan and Erie. They focused on modeling dispersal from major tributaries and ports that are most susceptible to invasion due to their high recreational traffic and commercial use. Results from these models showed that larval transport by lake currents is an important AIS dispersal mechanism in the Great Lakes. Depending on release location, larvae had the potential to travel distances ranging from half a mile to well beyond 10 miles (in some cases 60-120 miles, depending on species) while drifting in the current for 2-3 weeks. The model also suggested that Eurasian ruffe and golden mussel spread shorter distances when released from nearshore locations (i.e., rivers and ports) than when released from the offshore sites, and that golden mussel would disperse farther than Eurasian ruffe.

This AIS dispersal model emphasizes the importance of effective AIS surveillance programs that maximize early detection of new introductions, before lake current dispersal obviates containment and prevention of impacts.

About the Project

The project team included experts in lake hydrodynamics, fish biology, and ecology from CIGLR (Dima Beletsky, Raisa Beletsky), NOAA GLERL (Ed Rutherford), University of Toledo Lake Erie Center (Jennifer Sieracki, Johathan Bossenbroek), The Nature Conservancy (Lindsay Chadderton, Gust Annis), and University of Notre Dame (Marion Wittmann, David Lodge). Funding for this research was provided by EPA GLRI through the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, with additional funding from the University of Michigan Water Center and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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