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Leading the Way Against Invasive Species

Published on: Tue, 10/18/2011
Last Modified: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 11:04am

The spiny waterflea

A University of Windsor ecologist will lead a $6.5 million network of 28 of the nation’s top scientists, across 11 Canadian universities, including another of our own, Dr. Robin Gras, Associate Professor and Canadian Research Chair in Probabilistic and Heuristics here in the School of Computer Science.

Hugh MacIsaac, a professor at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, better known simply as GLIER, will lead the second phase of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network, a project whose first phase began five years ago. The project will be funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada for another five years. Together, the team’s purpose is to research and come up with solutions to the problem of invasive aquatic species that have been recently occurring in lakes, rivers, and coastal water ways across the country.

Species like sea lamprey, zebra mussels, round gobies and particularly the Asian Carp, which are not native to Canada, are spreading across Canadian water channels and are devastating our ecosystems, particularly threatening the Great Lakes ecosystem the most. As a result, our native fish species are in sharp decline, with Canadian fisheries suffering billions of dollars annually in lost revenue due to control measures.

Dr. Gras’s research will undoubtedly prove invaluable to the study, as his EcoSim program can be used to help answer how invasive species behave in certain ecosystems, and can examine their impact over a longer period of time, all safely done through computer simulations. He is a key player in the early detection phase of the project, which focuses on identifying crustacean, molluscan and ascidian invertebrates in environmental plankton samples collected during ice-off periods in early and late summer. The process used to complete such a daunting task is called ‘Pyrosequencing’, which is a powerful molecular genetics tool which can process up to 1 billion DNA bases per day. This method will be used to detect the DNA of both native and invasive species in the ecosystem from which researchers like Dr. Gras, whose background in statistical learning methods applied to bioinformatics and microbiological sequence analysis makes him particularly suited and skilled to the task, can create a national database for further research.