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Researcher says investment worthwhile to slow zebra mussels

Missouri Department Of Conservation

An invasive species specialist says slowing the spread of zebra mussels is worth a large investment.

Zebra mussels are tiny, invasive mollusks. When they invade a reservoir, they can clog dams and pipes, and limit the success of popular sport fish species like walleye.

Meg Duhr, a research outreach specialist with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, said there are continual breakthroughs in the research about zebra mussels.

"A couple of years ago, a team from our center mapped the whole zebra muscle genome. So we have insights at the chromosome level of the things that make zebra mussels so successful in the invaded lakes," Duhr said. "Also, the genome was open sourced. So any scientist in the world who's working on invasive muscles has access to that."

Duhr said preventing zebra mussel infestations is far less expensive than dealing with one. She said the species not only damages infrastructures like pipes and dams but also the economies of communities that rely on lakes for tourism.

"There are systems in place that could be modified and used in South Dakota. So, there's not like a research question about 'what do we do?' It's just a matter of making the investment," Duhr said.

Duhr said zebra mussels damage the habitats of popular sport fish. Weeds take over lake beds, and beaches become covered in sharp shells. This can also drop real estate values around infested waters.

Zebra mussels have been detected in 12 of the state's hundreds of lakes. Duhr said they have been found in 550 of Minnesota's thousands of lakes.

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.