Local and landscape-level effectiveness of aquatic invasive species prevention

Aquatic invasive species have caused massive and perhaps irreversible damage to water and ecological quality and are causing economic harm in the Upper Mississippi River region and beyond. While mitigation efforts are warranted, management priorities have been largely focused on preventing the spread of AIS, thereby preserving the integrity of the many currently uninfested waterbodies in the region. Unfortunately, little is known about the actual effectiveness or cost-effectiveness of those prevention efforts, and decision-support tools are lacking. We have assembled a diverse transdisciplinary team to address these critical knowledge gaps by building on previous research, creating new data and tools, and translating that science into action, with the ultimate goal of preserving the critical water resources of the Upper Mississippi River region. Through a mix of literature review, researcher and manager surveys, and a series of experimental studies, we will quantify the range of effectiveness for common AIS prevention strategies employed in the region, including best management practices by boaters, professional watercraft inspection, and high-pressure decontamination. 

To complement estimates of effectiveness, we will work closely with AIS managers to generate the costs of implementing those strategies at various scales. We will then use these data to build upon an existing multi- layer model to create a decision support tool for both Minnesota and Wisconsin, parameterizing it with data on boater movement patterns, natural connections, environmental suitability, AIS invasion locations, and for the first time, the cost-effectiveness of implementing prevention strategies at system-wide and/or local scales. For the purposes of this project, we will focus on two important AIS: zebra mussels and starry stonewort. Both are moved primarily via the boater pathway, represent two distinct organismal groups, and are a major focus of regional AIS prevention efforts. To provide realism to modeling outputs, what-if scenarios (i.e., statewide training of boaters and addition of strategically located decontamination units at hub lakes) will be created by regional AIS managers to test the outcome of various decisions.

The outcomes (number of infestations averted and lake-level risk scores) will be visualized with an online user- friendly decision support tool. We will host in-person and online training sessions to familiarize managers with the tool, walking them through scenarios that they create to ensure they understand the tool, the model on which it is based, and the assumptions it uses. With this tool, managers will be able to determine where on the landscape to place different AIS control measures for maximum benefit and can also test how well less costly control measures applied in many more locations compare to more costly control measures applied at only a few locations. Such scenario comparison will allow optimized AIS prevention across large regions for the lowest cost.