Despite the long history of invasion by aquatic nuisance species to the Great Lakes, deciding which invasive species poses the biggest threat has proved to be a big challenge for natural resource managers and policy makers. Tools to assess the risks of invasion to the Great Lakes have either been inadequate or non-existent, even for aquatic plants that are routinely sold in the aquarium and landscaping trade.
Scientists from University of Notre Dame and the Nature Conservancy, supported in part by National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science research grant, have recently completed a new risk assessment tool to help Great Lakes resource managers determine through a numerical score the likelihood that a given species may invade and if so, how likely is it to become established and cause impacts.
The tool, based on a New Zealand Aquatic Weed Risk Assessment model, was calibrated against existing invaders in the basin, and across the U.S. The information derived from the assessments will allow managers to establish risk thresholds which can then be used to determine which species are safe to be traded or should be prohibited to prevent invasion.
The tool was unveiled during a conference call with the project’s Management Transition Board, which is comprised by managers and scientists from the region’s key state, provincial, and federal resource agencies. During the meeting, state managers mentioned they expect to use the tool to inform pending management decisions and policies and evaluating existing ones.
Formal training for board members on using the assessment tool will be scheduled this summer. The assessment tool will eventually be available to the management community through a web portal. Work by the project team to develop additional tools focused on other aquatic invaders, such as mollusks and fishes, is in progress.