Symposium set on biocontrol of invasives

Since the beginning of the year, Asian carp have been making headlines across the country, as efforts to halt their invasion of the Great Lakes watersheds have spurred a Supreme Court case and the involvement of the Obama Administration. 

The four species of carp collectively known as Asian carp threaten huge dangers to the health of the Great Lakes. They are a major factor in the deterioration of aquatic environments, devastating food sources and habitats for native fish and waterfowl species.  At present, states are employing multiple strategies to control the spread of these invasive species.  Mechanical obstructions such as physical barriers, electric barriers, and acoustic deterrents are often used alone or in conjunction with poison.

 But, as Asian carp continue to knock at the door of the Great Lakes, it has become clear that these measures are not enough to provide a viable, long-term solution to the problem.

 Enter genetic biological control.  Armed with the tools of recombinant DNA technology, many scientists have begun to evaluate the potential for using genetically manipulated organisms to disrupt the survival or reproduction of a targeted invasive species.  This strategy of biocontrol entails the intentional release of transgenic or sterile individuals into populations of invasive species. 

 Biocontrol has the capability to be more effective than present methods because of its ability to target only invasive species with little to no effect on native fish populations, unlike mechanical or chemical approaches.  However, this potentially powerful new tool would likely be integrated into existing control measures as part of a multi-faceted management strategy for minimizing the harmful effects of non-native species invasion.

 Next month, Minneapolis will play host to a gathering of the world’s leading experts on biocontrol.  The International Syposium on Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Fish will take place June 21-24 and will address current developments in genetic biocontrol technologies, environmental risk assessments, regulatory issues, and possible economic impacts of future biocontrol implementation.

 It will bring together fisheries managers, industry representatives, and government regulators with experts in all facets of genetic biocontrol.  The keynote speaker will be Dan Simberloff, Ph.D., of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he studies the theoretical susceptibility of ecosystems to invasion from exotic species.  

 Simberloff, who earned an Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America in 2006, has been critical of the U.S. government’s inaction in combating invasive species.  One of the major sponsors of the symposium is the Minnesota Sea Grant. 

 People interested in attending the symposium can see the agenda and register at the Sea Grant website: http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/ais/biocontrol

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