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UM Biological Station picks up grant to track aquatic invasive species

Posted at 11:23 AM, Feb 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-19 13:23:43-05
FLBS Invasive Speices
UM researchers are getting help as they watch Flathead Lake for aquatic invasive species. (MTN News file photo)

MISSOULA – University of Montana researchers are getting some help as they watch Flathead Lake for aquatic invasive species (AIS).

A grant from NASA will enable researchers at the Flathead Lake Biological Station (FLBS) to launch a new project enabling officials to predict the spread of aquatic invasive species through remote sensing, genetic monitoring and climate forecasting.

Zebra mussels alone are predicted to cost $234 million a year in mitigation costs and lost revenue in Montana, according to a report conducted by FLBS research economist Nanette Nelson.

“The goal of our project is to increase early detection of AIS,” said FLBS researcher Gordon Luikart. “We want to provide managers with the most informative and accurate tools as possible, so they can increase their odds of early detection and reduce spread in cost-effective and efficient ways.”

According to a news release, one way the project aims to accomplish its goals is through developing web-based software that will integrate existing long-term observational AIS databases.

The integration will include information that currently exists in a United States Geological Survey database with observations submitted from across the country.

The project will also establish the first national environmental DNA (eDNA) database.

“If you think of a water body as a human body, then it’s easy to imagine aquatic invasive species as a type of aggressive cancer,” Luikart said. “The earlier you’re able to detect it, the greater the odds you’ll be able to eradicate it before it has the opportunity to spread to more vital areas.

The eDNA database will be used alongside a NASA climate warming data to map and predict the spread of AIS within and among water bodies.

The project is being made possible with extensive help and support from several state and federal agencies, including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA and the U.S. Forest Service.