lampreyRound gobies, zebra mussels, Asian carp and lamprey, like the ones shown here, are just a few of the many types of invasive species studied by the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network.

Aquatic invasive species network expands its reach

A university-headquartered national research network devoted to stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species will soon expand its reach all the way from the shores of South of Africa to the coast of Spain.

Thanks to new federal funding, the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network (CAISN) can recruit two new post-doctoral fellows to develop state-of-the-art methods for the early detection of invaders like the round goby, send other postdoctoral researchers to South Africa for a four-month research placement, and organize a workshop in Granada, Spain.

Hugh MacIsaac
          Hugh MacIsaac

“Stopping the spread of invasive species here and around the world is critical if we’re going to protect the integrity of our waters and the ecosystems they support,” said Hugh MacIsaac, a professor in the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and director of CAISN. “This network has produced some extremely high-impact research and trained more highly qualified people than we originally anticipated, and with this new funding, we’ll be equipping even more people in the fight against aquatic invasive species.”

Dr. MacIsaac recently learned that CAISN – which includes more than 30 scientists at 13 Canadian universities – received more than $270,000 in additional funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research to fund several new initiatives.

One of those includes $200,000 for hiring two post-doctoral research fellows who will study the best ways to use modern genetic analysis techniques for a national surveillance program CAISN is developing for the early detection and identification of aquatic invaders.  Current work has demonstrated that molecular identification of species is more than three times more sensitive to the presence of rare species in lakes than traditional sampling.

The network also received $72,000 from NSERC’s Strategic Network Enhancement Initiative to send several postdocs to the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology in Stellenbosch, South Africa, which MacIsaac says is the world’s leading facility addressing non-native species. The people going there will develop risk assessment models, as well as study new approaches to detect both native endangered fish and invasive fish species.

The funding will also help CAISN coordinate a workshop in Spain next February that will examine trans-Atlantic invasions between North America and Europe.

“Most aquatic invaders in the inland and coastal waters of eastern Canada either originate from Europe or elsewhere, but have used European ports as a stepping stone to invade our region,” MacIsaac said. “This workshop will help us identify ecological and socioeconomic factors that affect the patterns of biotic exchanges between Canada and Europe.”

Vice-president, research Michael Siu called the funding news “fantastic.”

“Promoting healthy Great Lakes is one of the four grand challenges in this university’s strategic research plan,” said Dr. Siu. “The methods these researchers are developing will help stop the spread of invasive species in other parts of the world, and the knowledge they gain will help in the fight against invasive species here in Canada, so this is tremendous news for Dr. MacIsaac and all of our colleagues and trainees associated with CAISN.”

The funding will also allow CAISN to take part in a summer professional development institute on invasive species issues in the Great Lakes for 35 elementary and secondary school teachers in Burlington, Ontario.

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