By CHELSEA MONGEAU
Capital News Service
LANSING — Citizen scientists are getting recruited for the ongoing fight against invasive and non-indigenous species in the Great Lakes region.
Michigan Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have built an online platform that shows where people can report the presence of non-indigenous species.
And the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network has built an application for smart phones that lets the user identify and track invasive species in Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest.
There has been little to no research on the socioeconomic or ecological effects that many non-indigenous species have on the Great Lakes. But species that are termed “invasive” are known to actively damage other species native to the ecosystem.
To combat their spread, researchers are asking citizen scientists to record and report where they see them. After a member of the public fills out an online sighting report form, the federal agency can send out experts to identify the species and record the location.
The agency is tracking about 193 non-indigenous species in the Great Lakes, said Rochelle Sturtevant, a Michigan Sea Grant regional
Extension educator based in Ann Arbor.
Non-indigenous species are organisms found in a region that isn’t considered their native habitat, Invasive species are not only found in a region where they don’t belong, but they’re also harmful to the surrounding ecosystem.
“Reports tend to come in spurts – triggered by an event or article,” Sturtevant said. “Not unexpectedly, I get next to nothing through the winter and a handful in the late spring each year.
The region, Sturtevant explained, is too large with too many non-indigenous species to look for with Sea Grant’s current research staff.
She compared the situation to a “needle in a haystack – a handful of experts scattered through the region are just spread too thin. We need more eyes on the ground.”
Examples of non-indigenous species that researchers track are
Chinese, Japanese and banded mystery snails and white perch, according to Daniel O’Keefe at Michigan State University Extension based in Ottawa County. Eradicating them is extremely difficult, so researchers have been tracking their spread.
“Sturtevant said, “Management options for mystery snails are severely limited. If they are in a relatively confined area, there are copper compounds that will kill them.
“In general, the native snails are more susceptible to those chemical compounds than the invasives, so we hesitate in recommending that,” she said.
The same goes for using rotenone, a chemical compound that could be used to wipe out white perch.
“White perch is susceptible to rotenone, which do fish kill in a confined area,” Sturtevant said. “The only management is unlimited harvest.”
Killing non-indigenous species creates a trend where native species that are in the way – some potentially endangered – are killed in the crossfire, Sturtevant explained.
If you can’t kill ‘em, track ‘em
Just tracking the non-indigenous species is a huge help.
O’Keefe said, “The data helps researchers drive their research questions. We study species that show up in the Great Lakes and how they travel.”
The round goby is an invasive fish found primarily in ports, but not between them, O’Keefe said. Anglers or boaters could be how they get from port to port.
One of the best ways to prevent species from being transferred is by cleaning off equipment before using it in a new location. O’Keefe said removing ballast water from boats, thoroughly rinsing them and letting them dry for about five days before putting the boats in another lake can help prevent the transfer of aquatic non-indigenous species.
Legally, it is difficult to tell the difference between non-indigenous and invasive species. Though invasive species are considered the most harmful to ecosystems, species that aren’t from a native habitat are coined “non-indigenous.” Determining what is harmful to an ecosystem and what is not often is determined by state legislation of invasive species lists.
“That’s kind of tricky,” Zeigler said. “It’s not necessarily all biological. In other words, it’s much easier to put a species on an invasive list if the public knows it is harmful and spreading.
With the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network tracking 260 species of invasive flora and fauna, citizen scientist data may provide insight to how they’re spreading – and maybe even an answer to how to stop them in their tracks.