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Climate Change and Aquatic Invasive Species

U.S. EPA researchers are helping states incorporate the effects of climate change into plans to manage aquatic invasive species in their waters, coasts, and wetlands by looking at the combined effects of climate change and these organisms.

Carp jumping from the water behind a moving boat

A number of sport anglers plying the Illinois River have put down their fishing rods in favor of bows and arrows. They’ve found better luck snaring their quarry out of the air than with the traditional baited-hook method. 

What the anglers are aiming for is silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). Native to Asia, these heavy-set fish can grow to four feet in length and weigh well over 70 pounds.

But it’s not all fun and games.

The carps’ habit of leaping out of the water when they sense a boat engine approaching occasionally brings these big fish directly into the pathway of the oncoming vessel. Collisions with airborne carp have resulted in broken jaws, concussions, loose teeth, and other painful and potentially serious injuries.

Silver and bighead carp join a long list of species—including the zebra mussel (Drernia crassipes), Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis), water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), Northern snakehead (Channa argus), nutria (Myocastor coypus), and others—that scientists and environmental managers are working to better understand so they can take action to prevent, control, or eradicate them in order to protect native species, and both environmental and economic interests.

Those efforts may become more challenging as climate change adds a new dynamic to the equation. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are helping states and other partners meet those challenges.

EPA scientists recently released Climate Change and Aquatic Invasive Species and Implications for Management and Research, a comprehensive report on the interaction of climate change and aquatic invasive species. The report provides ecological managers with new insight into how to effectively deal with aquatic invasive species.

“The report evaluates the combined effects of climate change and aquatic invasive species on aquatic ecosystem structure and function, and suggests potential paths forward that will increase understanding and improve management,” explains Dr. Michael Slimak, an EPA ecologist who helps lead invasive species research at the Agency.

A state-of-the-science assessment of the potential for climate change to affect aquatic invasive species provides managers and researchers with an important reference for incorporating climate change into their action strategies. The report also presents an analysis of existing management plans that identifies the capacity of each state to modify or adapt activities to account for climate-change effects.

The report is one of the first comprehensive efforts to present information incorporating what is known about the interactions of two complex environmental challenges: climate change and invasive species. While it provides a valuable reference, it also identifies the need for continued scientific research in order to provide the information and tools needed to effectively identify, prevent, contain, and when necessary, eradicate aquatic invasive species.

EPA researchers will continue to lead the effort to provide the science needed to bridge that gap.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appears in the EPA Research Highlights column in EM Magazine, a publication of the Air and Waste Management Association.

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