An Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center
Aquatic invasive species pose critical ecological and economic challenges for the entire state and beyond. They can cause irreparable harm to fisheries and aquatic habitat as well as damage to infrastructure. The problems posed by aquatic invasive species continue to grow as existing infestations expand and new exotic species arrive, most of which are poorly understood. New ideas and approaches are needed to develop real solutions. In 2012 the Minnesota Legislature provided the University of Minnesota with $3,800,000 ($2,000,000 from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund; $1,800,000 from the Clean Water Fund) to launch a new, first-of-its-kind research center specifically focused on developing and implementing solutions to control aquatic invasive species. These appropriations provided this new center with initial operating funds for conducting research aimed at slowing the spread, reducing, controlling, and/or eradicating aquatic invasive species including Asian carp, zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, and more. Proven tools and techniques developed at the center are intended to be implemented statewide.
$1,800,000 is appropriated in fiscal year 2013 from the clean water fund to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota to develop and implement an Aquatic Invasive Species Cooperative Research Center, including equipment and facility development. As a condition of receiving this appropriation, the University of Minnesota is requested to collaborate with the commissioner of natural resources in developing solutions to control aquatic invasive species. A portion of this appropriation may be used for educating and engaging citizens on preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Money appropriated in this section may not be spent on activities unless they are directly related to and necessary for the purposes of this section. Money appropriated in this section must not be spent on indirect costs or other institutional overhead charges that are not directly related to and necessary for the purposes of this section. This is a onetime appropriation and is available until June 30, 2018. Minnesota Statutes, section 116P.10, applies to this appropriation. For the purpose of this appropriation, the term "fund" means the clean water fund and the term "commission" means the Clean Water Council as used in Minnesota Statutes, section 116P.10.
The University will use this initial funding to develop and implement the administrative structure for the center, conduct strategic planning, establish and renovate its facilities, buy equipment, hire a zebra mussel researcher and start studies of zebra mussels designed to prevent and control this species, launch and facilitate additional research to find solutions to high priority AIS, and conduct education and citizen engagement activities.
The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC) has successfully been established. A center advisory board (CAB) was created and a 10 year strategic plan to reduce the impacts of AIS in Minnesota was developed and is now being implemented. An inter-agency technical committee was created that, together with the CAB, continues to provide guidance to the Center’s leadership.
Through funding research projects and hiring staff, the Center now has approximately 40 faculty, students, and staff conducting 36 research projects and ensuring smooth Center operations. While most of this personnel is supported with Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) and other dollars, the Clean Water Fund has been used to support a portion of the Director’s salary as well as the full time zebra mussel faculty researcher position, his research program, and additional research on high priority topics.
The faculty level zebra mussel researcher was hired with Clean Water Funds in 2013 and he has nearly completed the first phase of his research program to understand the threat of zebra mussels in order to prevent and control them in Minnesota. Research completed includes sequencing a draft genome of this organism, using genetics to understand how spread is occurring around the state, developing a new early detection technique for both zebra and quagga mussels, and developing protocols for evaluating effectiveness of open water trials of mulluscicide treatments.
The MAISRC facilities have now also been renovated. Clean Water Funds were used with a portion of our ENRTF 2012 appropriation, a 2014 bonding appropriation, and University of Minnesota funds to renovate a 10,000 square foot space into a state-of-the-art research lab where we can tackle the state’s foremost AIS issues. A truck, a pontoon boat, and a high pressure washer have also been procured to allow us to conduct critical field research.
Additional research and education/citizen engagement conducted with Clean Water Funds:
• Collaborated with the Minnesota DNR to model and analyze the density of carp in isolated and connected lakes to demonstrate the importance of partial migration to common carp success in Minnesota Lakes. The modeling also examined whether or not it is feasible to control carp by manipulating the frequency of stochastic events or preventing/limiting movement among lakes. A paper on this work was published as Bajer, P. G., Parker, J. E., Cross, T. K., Venturelli, P. A. and Sorensen, P. W. (2015), Partial migration to seasonally-unstable habitat facilitates biological invasions in a predator-dominated system. Oikos, 124: 1520–1526. doi: 10.1111/oik.01795
• A group of 4 graduate students presented and demonstrated a BayesNet Asian carps management decision support tool to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
• Conducted reconnaissance of lakes for study of the enhancement of milfoil weevils for Eurasian water milfoil biocontrol, including surveys at Cenaiko and Otter Lake. At each lake we collected samples (top 50 cm from 8 milfoil plants) from around the lake in shallow (<1m), moderate (1-2m) and deeper (2-3m) depths for a total of 35 to 45 samples at each lake. Samples were examined for milfoil weevils and other herbivores.
• Hosted the Center’s first Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research and Management Showcase. Over 220 people attended from around the state who heard 13 talks and demonstrations given by 23 MAISRC-affiliated researchers, an Extension educator and DNR scientist. Participants saw demonstrations of methods used to advance the science of AIS detection and control, gained some basic skills for working on AIS issues in their communities, and learned about some of the current research on invasive carps, zebra mussels, aquatic invasive plants, and harmful fish diseases.
• Convened of a group of international experts at the University of Minnesota to identify knowledge gaps and research priorities for preventing and managing invasion by starry stonewort, which was first found in Minnesota in August 2015. The group included scientists and resource managers from the New York Botanical Garden, Central Michigan University, UW-Stevens Point, the Minnesota DNR, and the University of Geneva in Switzerland. In association with the convening, MAISRC hosted a public webinar, which was attended by over participants. A recording of the webinar can be found here: http://www.maisrc.umn.edu/news/ssw-webinar2
• Additional research is ongoing and includes evaluation of Temperature-dependent toxicity of molluscicides to zebra mussels and development of protocols for their use in rapid response situations.