With the Minnesota fishing season underway, naturalists are reminding people to be on guard against invasive species. Poorly cleaned boats and water gear easily spread invasive species.
Nick Phelps, of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota, answered questions in a UM-published Q&A about invasive species in Minnesota waters and what people can do to help stop their spread.
Aquatic invasive species are generally introduced by humans and become established, spread, and can harm native organisms and ecosystems.
On the Zumbro River, the invasive plant Eurasian watermilfoil and invertebrate the zebra mussel have taken hold. However, only about 7 percent of Minnesota’s lakes are on the DNR’s infested waters list, and less than 3 percent of Minnesota’s lakes are infested with zebra mussels, said Phelps.
“This isn’t a lost cause — there is still a lot to protect,” he said.
In Minnesota, state law requires boaters to to clean, drain, dispose and dry water equipment before moving to a different body of water.
“Doing these few simple steps when your boat or equipment leave a waterbody or wetland — infested or not — can make a major difference,” Phelps said. “If possible, it is also a good idea to dry your boat and equipment for several days in between visiting lakes to be sure no viable aquatic invasive species can be spread.”
Invasive species, outside their regular habitats and away from natural predators, can thrive and crowd out native species and harm ecosystems.
Zebra mussels are spread via minute amounts of water. Once established, they can crowd out native mussel species, alter the local food web by filtering out large amounts of microscopic algae and can clog water intake pipes.
Phelps said work at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center has helped pioneer tactics to give outdoor enthusiasts reasons to be optimistic about managing and curtailing invasive species.
“We are working hard to develop an in-depth understanding of the biology and ecology of (aquatic invasive species) — and the complex systems in which they live — to find vulnerabilities and weaknesses that can be efficiently and effectively targeted for control.”
Center staff have developed and are testing pesticides for zebra mussels and starry stonewort and have made recommendations that make locks and dams pinch-points to prevent upstream spread of Asian carp. The center has also written management plans for nonnative Phragmites and are developing ways to control common carp in two Minnesota watersheds.
However, the center could use help, Phelps said.
“I’d highly suggest joining nearly 250 other citizen scientists in Minnesota as part of our aquatic invasive species detectors program,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to get actively involved and make a difference in your community.”