Talking with U of M

Talking aquatic invasive species with UMN

Nick Phelps

The Fishing Opener in Minnesota is this weekend, and aquatic invasive species (AIS) will be on many people’s minds.

Nick Phelps with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota answers questions about AIS, what people can do to stop the spread of AIS, and what the latest research is.

Q: What are aquatic invasive species?
Dr. Phelps: Aquatic species are those that are adapted to habitats that are regularly or permanently underwater, including lakes, rivers, and many kinds of wetlands. Invasive species are those that were introduced by humans, became established and spread, and cause — or are likely to cause — negative impacts to the ecosystem, economy or human health.

Q: What aquatic invasive species are in Minnesota?
Dr. Phelps: In Minnesota, there are invasive fish, like common carp and Asian carp; invasive plants like Eurasian watermilfoil and starry stonewort; invasive invertebrates like zebra mussels; and invasive microbes. Unfortunately, the list of AIS already in Minnesota is long and there are many more on the doorstep. However, it is important to remember that only about seven percent of Minnesota’s lakes are on the DNR’s infested waters list, and less than three percent of Minnesota’s lakes are infested with zebra mussels. This isn’t a lost cause — there is still a lot to protect.

Q: Why are aquatic invasive species a problem?
Dr. Phelps: Without predators or other controls from their native ranges, AIS can become highly abundant and spread quickly— dominating some ecosystems. The types of problems caused by AIS vary by species. For example, common carp can degrade water quality and destroy waterfowl habitat by rooting in the lake bottom while searching for food. Zebra mussels can smother and cause local extinctions of native mussels, alter the food web by filtering out enormous amounts of microscopic algae and can clog water intake pipes.

Q: How can I help in the fight against aquatic invasive species?
Dr. Phelps: “Clean-Drain-Dispose” isn’t only best practice for prevention, it is also the law in Minnesota.  Doing these few simple steps when your boat or equipment leave a waterbody or wetland — infested or not — can make a major difference. If possible, it is also a good idea to dry your boat and equipment for several days in between visiting lakes to be sure no viable AIS can be spread. If you think you’ve found an AIS, report it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources AIS specialist for your region, which can be found at In addition, I’d highly suggest joining nearly 250 other citizen scientists in Minnesota as part of our AIS Detectors program. This is a great opportunity to get actively involved and make a difference in your community.

Q: What is the University of Minnesota doing about AIS?
Dr. Phelps: The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota is on the leading edge of AIS research and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about our future. We are working hard to develop an in-depth understanding of the biology and ecology of AIS — and the complex systems in which they live — to find vulnerabilities and weaknesses that can be efficiently and effectively targeted for control. We’ve tested and are optimizing pesticides for zebra mussels and starry stonewort, made recommendations that make locks and dams pinch-points to prevent upstream spread of Asian carp, written management plans for non-native Phragmites, developed innovative solutions to control common carp in two Minnesota watersheds and much more. Success stories are within reach! You can learn more about our work and how you can get involved at

Nick Phelps is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and the director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. His areas of expertise include emerging infectious diseases of farmed and wild fish and modeling to predict the risk of AIS spread.

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