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Non-native weatherfish are present in Roxana Marsh

April 17th, 2017 by

Weatherfish, known in scientific circles as Misgurnus anguillicaudatus, were spotted in the recently restored Indiana wetland, Roxana Marsh, by researchers from the University of Notre Dame.

PhD candidate Katherine O’Reilly, who led the team that confirmed the weatherfish finding, was at the marsh in 2015 for an IISG-funded project evaluating how coastal wetlands around Lake Michigan support the nearshore lake food webs.

“The main goal of the project is to figure out how fish moving between these habitats might be moving energy,” O’Reilly said.

“You might have fish moving out to the nearshore and becoming prey for larger sport fish. That moves food, energy, and nutrients from these highly productive coastal wetland systems to the less productive lake habitat.”

When the researchers returned to their nets left out overnight as part of routine sampling, what they saw was baffling. After some “on-the-spot Googling,” they figured out what they had.

“I wasn’t familiar with the weatherfish. I saw these little eel-like things, something I wasn’t used to seeing in the Great Lakes,” O’Reilly said. “We must have just hit the weatherfish jackpot.”

The weatherfish, originally from Eastern Asia, has been in the United States since the early twentieth century. It was brought over through the aquarium trade. Anglers also have used them as bait because of their wriggly disposition. They are greenish-grey-brown and are typically less than eight inches.

They found their way to Cook County’s North Shore Channel in 1987 and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1994. By 2005, a  survey confirmed their presence in the West and East branches of the Grand Calumet River and the Indiana Harbor Canal.

But what’s particularly unique about this species is its breathing anatomy. The weatherfish can use their intestine to supplement their gills when oxygen conditions in the water are low. They’re tolerant in what are considered rough, degraded habitats.

In fact, that lung structure is what gave the weatherfish its name. Because they have an intestine that can take in air, they’re very sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. There are reports of when there are drops in pressure, they start to get increasingly active in anticipation of an impending storm.

Some of the Roxana Marsh weatherfish were brought back to the lab at University of Notre Dame for further analysis.

Many of the fish O’Reilly and (then) undergraduate Amelia McReynolds pulled up in their nets that day were females filled with eggs, which made O’Reilly think that they may have been spawning in the marsh. Through further investigation, they found that the weatherfish diet of small benthic invertebrates and insects was similar to that of some native fish. She posits that could potentially have an impact down the road if they out-compete the native fish for resources.

Gary Lamberti, O’Reilly’s adviser, was impressed by his students’ findings.

“It really is the most exciting thing in science when you’re doing some routine work and you’re expecting the usual and then you find something that’s very different,” Lamberti said.

“Having serendipitous discoveries really makes science and ecology very interesting and rewarding.”

*This story was updated on April 28, 2017.


To learn more about how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, visit Be A Hero—Transport Zero™


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

Sea Grant takes AIM at AIS

June 20th, 2016 by

Not all non-native plants and animals turn out to be invasive in a new environment. How can we predict whether a species poses a threat to local waters? If we could predict that, how can we make the best use of that information?

IISG and University of Notre Dame researchers set out to answer the first question by analyzing which traits help a species thrive in a new environment. They brought this data to an Indiana working group looking to proactively prevent the introduction of invasive plant species through water garden and aquarium retailing. The group of researchers, resource managers, retailers, and hobbyists created a risk assessment tool and their work led to 28 aquatic plants being banned in the state.

As a result of this work, Notre Dame’s David Lodge, and Reuben Keller, now with Loyola University Chicago, were funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to create risk assessment tools for all taxa in the Great Lakes, including crayfish, fish, mollusks, plants, and turtles. These tools can help decision makers establish consistent and comprehensive regulations focused on species that pose the biggest threat.

Meanwhile, IISG’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) team has been pulling out all the stops to distribute information that can help prevent the spread of AIS in trade—in other words, species that are bought and sold for water gardens, aquariums, and to a lesser extent, classrooms. Leading the effort as part of the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network, and informed by social science research from North Carolina State University, the specialists are targeting all levels of this AIS pathway—from retailers to hobbyists—and sharing information across the region through a variety of media.

The suite of tools contains publications for retailers and their customers that include lists of non-invaders as well as known or potential invaders. “Many of these resources are informed directly from the risk assessment findings,” said Pat Charlebois, AIS outreach coordinator.

Great Lakes Sea Grant programs and the Sea Grant Law Center are contributing their expertise. For example, Wisconsin Sea Grant created a training video for water garden retailers, and Ohio Sea Grant hosted a webinar for aquarium hobbyists. In addition to writing news articles, other programs helped craft non-technical versions of relevant state regulations to give retailers easy access to the information.

All of this work is raising awareness and potentially changing behavior. “Most of the retailers that have received materials about the risk of AIS have reported that they will distribute publications and talk with their customers about invasive species, and a majority will avoid selling them,” said Greg Hitzroth, IISG AIS outreach specialist.

You can find these resources and many more on the new website Aquatic Invaders in the Marketplace (AIM) or TakeAIM.org. AIM are aquatic plants and animals available for sale that can negatively impact ecosystems, economies, or public health. These organisms are commonly found in the live food, aquarium, pet, biological supply, live bait, water garden, and aquaculture industries.

This comprehensive resource provides a wealth of information for resource managers, retailers, hobbyists, aquatic farmers, and more on how to prevent the spread of AIS that can happen with plants and animals that come to new environments through the marketplace. The website includes links to regulations, lists of contacts and invasive species, and species prediction tools for the Great Lakes and beyond.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension.

DNA tools help biologist find elusive species

April 9th, 2015 by
In the Great Lakes region, the word “eDNA” is never far from “Asian carp.” And for good reason. The technology was originally applied by Notre Dame scientists in response to the federal government’s need to discover—and ultimately control—the spread of this voracious invader.
 
But in the six years since, environmental DNA has become a commonly used tool for detecting fish and other aquatic organisms. Biologists in the UK use it to locate crested newts, Kentucky scientists use eDNA to monitor salamanders, and a city in Washington state even plans to use the technology to track an invasive snail threatening salmon habitats. And scientists see even greater potential on the horizon. 
 
Think of eDNA as forensic detective work. When a silver carp, salamander, or other aquatic animal shed skin cells, they leave behind traces of their DNA. Using the method developed at Notre Dame, scientists can run water samples through a fine-meshed filter, separate DNA from any other microscopic particles, and determine whether any of the genetic material matches the species they are looking for.
 
“The importance of the method lies in its ability to detect the presence of recluse species or ones with population levels that make catching them difficult,” said David Lodge, a Notre Dame biologist and director of the team that developed this forensic method.
 
Most of the testing done so far has focused on finding the genetic material of a single species. But Lodge, Notre Dame professor Michael Pfrender, and their team are working on an approach that would allow scientists to map the aquatic life of an entire habitat by sequencing all the genes in a water sample. Although it wouldn’t replace the more time-intensive field studies, this strategy could help natural resource managers know where to target conservation efforts. Lodge received funding to develop a metagenetics approach from the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation after early results of IISG-funded research revealed ways to strengthen eDNA sampling.
 
Despite its growing use, eDNA testing is not without controversy, especially when it comes to Asian carp. And the approach does have its limits. eDNA doesn’t tell scientists how many fish there are or whether they are alive or dead. The genetic material found in the water could also come from other sources. There could be feces from birds that fed on Asian carp elsewhere. And boaters and anglers could unknowingly be transporting DNA from one waterway to another.   
These possibilities cast some doubt on eDNA results. In fact, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has said they no longer react to these results alone and are instead looking for entire fish. 
 
Still, supporters say the technology has huge potential.

 

“Nothing is as sure as holding the fish in your hand,” Lodge said, “but the repeated findings and patterns of Asian carp eDNA make the alternative explanations for how the material got there less plausible.” 

Placement week a success for new Knauss Fellow Rachel Gentile

December 12th, 2014 by

The two IISG-sponsored Knauss Fellows selected for 2015 recently returned from D.C., where they met with other fellows, interviewed with government agencies and offices, and learned where they spend the next year working on water resource and environmental issues. Rachel Gentile, who is completing a PhD in Biological Sciences at Notre Dame, shares her experiences.

My placement is in the office of Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47). I will be assisting with his marine policy portfolio and will also be directing the House Safe Climate Caucus. This means I will be managing the activities of the caucus and assisting with floor speeches, op-eds, and short videos to promote climate change awareness in the House of Representatives. I applied to the Knauss Sea Grant Fellowship because I wanted to assist with discussions concerning marine and climate issues on Capitol Hill, so this placement in Rep. Lowenthal’s office is a dream come true!
 
Placement week was a whirlwind of excitement for me. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the other finalists, Knauss alumni, and the legislative hosts. I also learned a lot about the legislative process and my future role as a Knauss Fellow.
 
At the beginning of the week, we attended a series of lectures facilitated by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the Library of Congress. We learned how politics, policy, and procedure come together inside the walls of congress to pass—and fail—bills. We were introduced to CRS subject librarians and research specialists in marine, climate, and energy policy who will be incredibly helpful to us as we research these issues and write memos, talking points, floor speeches, and legislation.
 
 
Most of the week was spent in interviews with the host offices. I interviewed in 17 different offices over three days. I loved hearing about the work each office was doing. Many hosts talked about fisheries, marine national monuments, climate change adaptation, water and drought issues, and ocean acidification. There are many marine policy issues currently being addressed in congress, and as a Knauss Fellow, I will assist my host office with them.

IISG in the news: Grant funding will inform wetland conservation and protection

October 7th, 2014 by

Scientists from Central Michigan University’s Institute for Great Lakes Research (IGLR) are expanding their basin-wide Great Lakes coastal wetlands monitoring program with help from grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant programs. The program is one part of a collaborative project that brings together researchers from IGLR, Notre Dame, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The results will help natural resource managers better target protection and restoration efforts. 


From the Midland Daily News: 

They also will be able to help assess the importance of coastal wetlands as they relate to the food web of the Great Lakes ecosystem by studying otoliths, or fish ear bones, to determine where fish are obtaining energy for growth. 

Otoliths grow daily, similar to rings found in the trunk of a tree. With the use of a precise laser beam, IGLR researchers can sample the chemical composition of targeted areas of the otoliths and relate this “chemical fingerprint” to specific coastal wetlands, even when fish are caught in the open water of the Great Lakes, far from any wetlands. 

It is hoped that this research will result in a long-term, sustainable monitoring program aimed at restoring and protecting Great Lakes coastal wetlands, which provide a critical habitat for many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and an essential spawning and nursery habitat for many fish species of ecological and economical importance to Michigan’s $7.5 billion commercial and sports fishing industry. Read more.

The research project is one of three awarded a combined total of $380,000 from IISG earlier this year. Additional projects seek to uncover the connections between sediment removal projects and a community’s ability to weather environmental hazards and identify why people adopt stormwater management practices. 

And IISG continues to fund strong research projects like these. In fact, last month we announced a new funding opportunity for research addressing key economic planning questions facing the Great Lakes region. Researchers may request up to $96,000 for 18 months. Proposals are due by 5 pm CST on Nov. 17, 2014. Read the full RFP for information on project and application requirements. 

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