Sci-Friday: Protecting the ecosystem from Alaska’s aquatic Invasive plant

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 4:13 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - For this Sci-Friday Dr. Aditi Shenoy, Natural Resources Specialist with the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District provides a look at her work protecting Alaska’s ecosystem from an invasive threat that is even now growing under the frozen surfaces of the states lakes and sloughs.

Invasive plants are species which are not native to an ecosystem, but are somehow brought in. They can have a potentially catastrophic impact on the environment as they are able to out-compete the local ecology for resources and spread. Alaska has several invasive plant species growing across the state including bird vetch, white sweetclover, and Elodea.

“Elodia is pretty much the only invasive freshwater aquatic plant that’s in Alaska that we know of right now, and it can have a lot of impacts on native ecosystems,” said Shenoy.

Invasive plant species can be transmitted from their native ecosystems to others which are unprepared to deal with them by human transport and activity. Shenoy believes it’s likely this is what occurred in Alaska.

“The way it was introduced was most likely an aquarium being dumped in a slough. That’s how it was introduced to the native ecosystems, and like all good invaders it’s able to survive under the conditions here and spread very easily, and grow prolifically. So it’s able to out-compete native plant species, and then also transform native stream environments to make it unsuitable for fish and wildlife uses,” said Shenoy.

Elodea has been found in 35 bodies of water across the state including Chena Lake, Chena River, and Birch Lake.

“In interior Alaska, the first time it was found was in 2010 in the Chena Slough near North Pole. But it has been in Alaska in the Cordova area since 1982, that we know of,” said Shenoy.

Statewide efforts to prevent Elodea’s spread and eradicate known infestations are underway.

“We’re using an aquatic herbicide where the active ingredient is Fluridone to eradicate it. The Fluridone is able to kill the Elodea at very low concentrations, so we only need to apply about five parts per billion in the water in order to kill the Elodea. It’s a really good tool for Elodea eradication because it has very low impact on other fish and wildlife species as well as humans. It does effect some native planet species, which come back from the seed bank the following season,” said Shenoy.

The efforts of institutions and specialists to protect Alaska’s ecosystem by eradicating invasive species can be bolstered by people helping to locate emerging instances of the plant.

“I think the most important thing while people are out boating and fishing and doing other outdoor activities is to keep and eye out for anything, any plant or animal species that looks unusual or they haven’t noticed before.”

Invasive species and potential invasive species can be reported to the Alaska Department for Fish and Game at 1-877-INVASIVE, or the Alaska Soil and Water Conservation district.

“Early detection is really important to invasive plant managers so they can start dealing with the problem before it gets out of hand,” said Shenoy.

Another useful mitigation measure can be undertaken by the owners of boats, floatplanes, and by fishers. Cleaning, draining, and drying any piece of human technology that interacts with a body of water is an important step in ensuring nothing invasive hitches a ride.

“In the wintertime people are ice fishing, and Elodea continues to grow under the ice during the winter, so it’s important that people clean their fishing gear before going to the next water body so they don’t transport invasive plants from one location to another,” said Shenoy.

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