CMU biology professor detects Asian carp, invasive species in some Michigan waterways

There are 180 invasive species lurking in some Michigan waterways right now.

That’s according to Assistant Professor of Biology Andrew Mahon, who is studying the evidence of these invasive species, specifically Asian Carp. Mahon and his colleagues have found evidence of big head and silver carp, both types of Asian carp, in Lakes Erie and Michigan.

“We look for a genetic signal,” Mahon said.

Asian Carp present a problem not only for recreation in the areas in which they inhabit, but for the fishing industry.

“In the areas the carp have gotten into, they dominate the ecosystem,” Mahon said. "There are very few people water skiing in many regions of the Illinois River. Not only do Asian carp eat what the other fish eat, resulting in a lack of food in the ecosystem, but silver carp jump out of the water, endangering those on the body of water."

However, not all researchers have found DNA to prove the presence of Asian carp.

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources commissioned their own study into the presence of Asian carp in Lake Erie. Brian Locke, fisheries assessment supervisor for Lake Erie and for the MNR, told CBC News there is no evidence of the species in Lake Erie.

"We haven’t found a thing. We have no positive samples in our environmental DNA collections or any other regular programs," Locke told CBC News. "And, we haven’t seen any (Asian carp) come into the commercial fisheries."

Mahon said the difference in results comes down to where the research is being performed.

“They’re looking on the Canadian side,” he said.

Another problem, Mahon said, is the confusion of Asian carp for minnows. Asian carp strike a resemblance to minnows when they are babies, so fishermen commonly use them for bait and dump the excess portion into the water.

“These (Asian carp) can be passed through commercial bait,” Mahon said.

As CM Life reported last year, Mahon and his colleagues are reaching their conclusion with the help of laser transmission spectroscopy technology, which is vital for early detection. He said the technology, which uses unique sequences in an animal’s DNA, is very accurate.

“The instrument targets fragments of species (we’re interested in),” Mahon said. “Every animal is unique. They have a barcode.”

Mahon said LTS technology could be used for anything, even detecting different strains of malaria.

“There’s a ton of different applications,” Mahon said.

Mahon said the work is funded through the EPA Great Lakes Initiative and is a collaborative effort between CMU and the University of Notre Dame.

He said his work is all about damage control.

“(We) try to prevent it from spreading,” Mahon said. “Actions can be taken to keep the Asian Carp from spreading further than they already have.”


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