Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Eradicate Alien Mussels in Lake St. Clair

Let’s annihilate zebra and quagga mussels in Lake St. Clair.

It is believed that zebra mussels traveled from the Black Sea region to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ships.  The mussels were found in Lake St. Clair in 1988 and spread throughout the Great Lakes, the Mississippi Valley and eventually most of the contiguous United States.

 Quagga mussels, cousins of the zebra, were first seen in the Erie Canal in 1989, although not correctly identified until 1991.

Both species have dramatically altered the ecosystems where they have established themselves. Both are prolific and have fewer natural predators in North America than in Europe.  Zebras in particular like to settle together in large numbers on hard surfaces like native clams and mussels, killing them, and on/in man made objects such as the water intake pipes of power plants and municipal water facilities, clogging them.

Before the arrival of zebra mussels, there were approximately 40 species of native mussels in the Detroit River and approximately 20 in Lake St. Clair. Nalepa et al. (1996) collected Unionidae [native mussels] from 29 sites in Lake St. Clair in 1986 (before the first zebra mussels were found), 1990, 1992, and 1994. They collected 281 (18 species), 248 (17 species), 99 (12 species), and 6 (5 species) native mussels in the four years, respectively, which shows the devastating impact to native mussels.
Seven years ago, while researching zebras, I found that Dr. Daniel Molloy in 2001 had discovered that a common bacterium, pseudomonas fluorescens strain CLO145, is lethal to the zebra, but otherwise harmless.

In May, 2008, I passed the story along to Michigan Public Radio, which broadcast an interview with Dr. Molloy.

Subsequently, Molloy arranged for Marrone Bio Innovations in California to develop a commercial product.  Marrone named the product Zequanox and conducted further trials.  

With the assistance of U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Marrone built a production facility in Bangor, Michigan.

On November 30, 2010, I sent the following to Chuck Frederick, Editor of the Duluth News Tribune, who published this as a letter to the editor:

Mr. Frederick:

On Monday, November 29, 2010, the News Tribune ran an article about the possibility that zebra and quagga mussels were carriers of the botulism that is killing thousands of water birds in the Great Lakes region each year.

Happily, a means of controlling the invasive mussels may be at hand.

About 10 years ago, Dr. Daniel Molloy of the New York State Museum discovered a mutation of a common bacterium that kills zebra and quagga mussels but is harmless to other organisms.

Commercial production of the biopesticide was problematic because the bacteria had a short shelf life. That problem was overcome, but widespread, open-water application was thought not to be effective.

Trials to confirm the specific effect of the bacterium on the alien mussels were successful. In addition, it was discovered that dead bacteria were just as lethal as live ones. As a result, Molloy and others have concluded that toxins in the bacteria, not infection, kill the mussels, lowering even more the potential risk to other species.  It is anticipated now that open-water application will be effective.

The biopesticide is expected to be available in commercial quantities sometime in 2011.

Jim Lang

After my letter was published, some citizen groups in Minnesota expressed interest in Zequanox. Studies were begun.

(Updated Nov. 5, 2014) -- Field testing wrapped up in late October, and the USGS is beginning to analyze the data...The USGS received a grant from the state of Minnesota to study the treatment. After testing it in a lab environment in northwestern Minnesota last year [2013], the USGS has received appropriate permission from all state and federal agencies to apply an experimental treatment of Zequanox in Lake Minnetonka.

One recent experiment seems to have turned out well.

Initial searches indicate a three-step treatment of Christmas Lake in Shorewood for zebra mussels has been effective, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources…

Zequanox, a natural substance highly selective to zebra and quagga mussels, was first applied to the treatment area in September [2014]. That application was followed by a [toxic] copper treatment of EarthTec QZ in October and November. In December, a contractor working with the DNR injected 1,000 pounds of [toxic] potassium chloride (potash) under the ice near the public boat access. It was only the third time potash was used for zebra mussel control in the United States. The applications of potash and EarthTec QZ were experimental off-label uses requiring special emergency permission…

Why don’t we muster state and federal resources to attack invasive zebra and quagga mussels in Lake St. Clair?


Excerpts from onEarth magazine, “Flexing Their Mussel”  by Susan Cosier,  May 2015:

Even as mussel populations begin to contract, scientists are looking to a pesticide to beat them back them further. Zequanox contains a patented bacterium that kills mussels by dissolving their digestive tracts and—this is key—only affects quagga and zebra mussels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a permit for lake managers to release the powdery mixture into open water. Alas…it probably won’t work.

Zequanox inventor Daniel Molloy, an aquatic invasive-species biologist, says that treating an entire lake with this stuff wouldn’t be that effective. Instead, he says we need something that gets into every nook and cranny of the Great Lakes—and something that doesn’t cost a fortune to use repeatedly. (Applying the pesticide to 3,000 square feet of Minnesota’s Christmas Lake cost $6,800. Lake Erie, by comparison, has a surface area of 9,990 square miles.)

“You need something that will work lakewide, and this requires a next-generation control agent, a live one,” says Molloy. A parasite. Molloy’s convinced he can find one—ideally one that’s safe for all except zebras and quaggas—but it could be a decade before he does. Scientists are also looking into ways to disrupt mussel spawning and biobullets, which would deliver a musselcide on the microparticles bivalves ingest. Those methods, however, are largely untested, and environmental groups, such as NRDC (disclosure), remain skeptical. In other words, solving this quagga quagmire is a long ways away. 

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