The United States Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a grant of $111,264 to fund a research project, “Evaluating Ponto-Caspian Fishes for Risk of Great Lakes Invasion.” Randal Snyder, associate professor of biology and a fish physiologist, is the principal investigator. He is also an expert on alewives, a widespread non-native fish species that was brought to the Great Lakes in the 1800s.
The Ponto-Caspian area includes the Caspian and Black seas and their tributaries, bordered by Russia and other countries. These inland seas share certain significant characteristics with the Great Lakes in North America. Therefore, many species that thrive there can also live in the Great Lakes as an invasive species, as zebra mussels have done.
Several scientists with Buffalo State’s Great Lakes Center will contribute to this project including Alexander Karatayev, director, and Lyubov Burlakova, research scientist. The scientists, both fluent in the Russian language, will travel to the Ponto-Caspian region to study research that is available only in Russian. They expect to collect data regarding more than 40 fish species native to the region.
Once the data have been collected, the research team will analyze it. Based on the species’ characteristics, the Buffalo State scientists will assess which are most likely (1) to be invasive in the Great Lakes region and (2) to survive the conditions in a ballast tank when a ship travels from that region to North America.
Data about the species likely to survive the trans-Atlantic transport will be further analyzed to determine which of them are most likely to thrive if released into the Great Lakes. The result is expected to be a “short list” of fish species most likely to become an invasive species that could pose a significant problem to the Great Lakes ecosystem.
The information will be distributed to scientists and other stakeholders throughout the Great Lakes region with the help of David MacNeill from New York Sea Grant (NYSG). NYSG is a cooperative program of SUNY and Cornell University that helps transfer science-based information to business and industry leaders; federal, state, and local government decision makers; and the general public.
“Once we know what species are likely to present a problem,” said Snyder, “we will develop fact sheets with pictures and information that will educate stakeholders, the public, and citizen scientists, who can then help identify an invasive species as early as possible. With invasive species, the sooner you identify the problem, the better the chance that you will be able to control or eliminate it.”
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