Researchers imagine killer shrimp invasion of Great Lakes

"Invasions are a transboundary issue," said study supervisor Anthony Ricciardi, calling for greater cooperation among American and Canadian regulators.
By Brooks Hays  |  Feb. 10, 2015 at 11:30 AM
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MONTREAL, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- A new study predicts future invaders of the Great Lakes basin -- should stronger environmental protections not be enacted -- and one of them is the killer shrimp. It's not quite as frightening as a killer bee or killer shark, but it could be much more ecologically devastating.

The killer shrimp (Dikerogammarus villosus) is a shrimp species from the waters of Eastern Europe, including the Black and Caspian Seas. Many invaders originate in this region, where East meets West. This particular species has begun invading Western Europe and the waters of the Mediterranean.

Killer shrimp reproduce and grow very fast; they reach sexual maturity in just four to eight weeks. They also attack native species at random, killing small fish, nymphs, leeches and the eggs of other small vertebrates -- often with no intention of eating their prey.

An invasion of killer shrimp is unlike to happen this year, or the next. But researchers at McGill University in Montreal warn that should today's regulations prove ineffective in the long run, more and more species will find their way to the Great Lakes region in the coming decades.

In the last 200 years, researchers say some 180 non-native species have made their way into the Great Lakes and the rivers that empty into them. Roughly 20 percent of those species have proven ecologically and economically damaging.

And while ballast water regulations -- which force shipping barges to empty their fresh water ballast and take up salt water before entering the St. Lawrence Seaway -- have proven effective over the last decade, researchers say it's not clear that these laws will be foolproof.

"No new species have been recorded since 2006," lead study author Katie Pagnucco, a postdoctoral student at McGill, explained in a press release. "We may have closed the door on ballast water-mediated invasions. That remains to be seen. But other doors are still open."

Pagnucco and her fellow study authors argue that more needs to be done to ensure invaders like killer shrimp and monkey goby (an invasive fish species from the Black Sea) are kept at bay.

"Invasions are a transboundary issue," said study supervisor Anthony Ricciardi, an invasive-species biologist at McGill. "In addition to harmonized regulations on live trade, the two countries must coordinate early detection and rapid response to new threats -- before an invasion has progressed beyond control."

The study was published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

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