In the movies, science happens fast. A plague that threatens all life? One person finds the antidote, spends a few hours in a lab and — boom! — problem solved. An asteroid headed for Earth? A heroic scientist is able to break into a secured computer, punch a few keys and — presto! —threat averted.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in real life, especially with a complicated challenge like aquatic invasive species.
Real science is slow, meticulous and not very glamorous: hours spent in the lab, hunched over a microscope counting zebra mussel veligers; cold days measuring plant densities on a lake; nights repeating fish feeding trials. Succeeding at science takes time, patience, resources and collaboration.
That’s why the May 7 Star Tribune story headlined “Invasive species ‘game-changer’ a bust?” was so misleading.
In the two and a half years since the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center officially started work, it has focused on researching the prevention and control of some of the most pressing aquatic invasive species threats, including Asian carp, common carp, aquatic plants and zebra mussels.
Launching those projects has involved hiring two new University of Minnesota faculty members — including Minnesota’s first full-time zebra mussel scientist — along with their research teams, as well as engaging dozens of researchers from both inside and outside the U in interdisciplinary collaborations.
Even in the center’s short existence, we have had many early research successes, including:
• Participating in the state’s first open-water use of Zequanox and potash to control zebra mussels.
• Completing the first field season of zebra mussel sampling to determine their pathways of spread and to develop early-detection techniques.
• Installing experimental sound deterrents at Lock and Dam No. 8 to deter Asian carp from moving up our rivers and into our lakes.
• Developing an accurate genetic-detection method for invasive carp.
• Launching studies to improve Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed treatment options through mechanical, herbicidal and biocontrol methods.
• Screening 33 bodies of water and more than 3,300 fish for VHSv, an aggressive virus that affects game fish.
As you can see, we’ve already made progress and we’ll continue to make more.
In 2014, we made a change in leadership, appointing Prof. Susan Galatowitsch, head of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, as director of the center. That switch allowed Prof. Peter Sorensen, who founded and championed creation of the center, to focus on what he does best: carp research.
While initial research continues, Galatowitsch has positioned the center to launch additional efforts to protect Minnesota’s lakes and rivers from aquatic invasive species. She convened stakeholders from a variety of perspectives to help identify the state’s highest research priorities. The center’s advisory board will be reviewing the results this month, and funding for additional projects will begin later this year. The center’s original projects will remain in progress.
Invasive species are a big threat to our state’s economy and way of life, and we have limited tools to address them. This means we must work now, across many fronts, to use innovative science to find solutions to these vexing problems. Aquatic invasive species didn’t get here overnight and the issue won’t be solved overnight, but the center is doing everything it can to work to preserve the beautiful natural resources that all Minnesotans love. For more information on the work of the center, see: www.maisrc.umn.edu.
Brian Buhr is dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Tom Landwehr is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.