Invasive Eurasian milfoil entangled on a boat and trailer.
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
Invasive Eurasian milfoil entangled on a boat and trailer.

A cooler full of fish might not be the only thing anglers bring back from a trip to the lake. Unknowingly, they may also be transporting small aquatic “hitchhikers” that attach themselves to boats, motors ― and even fishing gear ―  when moving between bodies of water.

Considerable research shows that aquatic invasive species can completely transform ecosystems by introducing disease, out-competing and eating native species, altering food webs, changing physical habitat, devastating water-delivery systems and damaging economies. Furthermore, once established, eradication of nuisance species is near impossible, and management can be extremely difficult and costly.

Although preventative measures have been enacted to reduce their introduction and spread, such as mandatory watercraft inspections, educational programs and even dogs trained in sniffing out invasive species, these aquatic stowaways still manage to find their way into new water bodies around the country.

One of the many challenges is identifying how these species spread through human movement. A new University of Washington study uses passive data from a fishing technology company to model the movement of anglers and predict where aquatic invasives may be spreading. The findings were published Sept. 2 in the journal NeoBiota.

“Focusing on anglers allows us to look at a population that uses a wide range of gear on the water; therefore, they have the potential to move a very wide range of species,” said Rachel Fricke, a graduate student at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. Fricke’s research on invasive species is a continuation of her undergraduate capstone project which she also completed at the school.

The researchers used data provided by ReelSonar, the Seattle-based developer of the pocket-sized fish finder iBobber. The iBobber syncs with an angler’s smart device and collects multiple pertinent data points, including fishing location. To date, over five million locations have been recorded from around the world.

“In the past, ecologists have done an incredible job extracting big datasets from the web without necessarily working with the organizations who collected the data in the first place,” said co-author Julian Olden, a professor of aquatic and fishery science. “This is to be expected, but I believe that real creativity in the future will come from more authentic collaborations where both ideas and products are co-generated.”

Read more at UW News »