New Head of Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center visits WAPOA

The new director of the Invasive Species Center at the University of Minnesota was a guest at the August WAPOA Board meeting at the Ideal Community Center.

Dr. Nick Phelps, an invasive species researcher, is taking over as the new director of the Center. He outlined the history of the center and then discussed the extensive research plans for the years ahead.

A graduate of  Brainerd High School he said he was very familiar with our area.


Dr. Nick Phelps, standing, new Director of the Minnesota Aquatic Research Center visited a recent WAPOA Board meeting, explaining how they carefully focus their research efforts. He was accompanied by co-director Becca Nash who invited Board Members to come to an upcoming symposium demonstrating their most recent research.

In connection with his recent recent appointment he wrote, “I grew up on the lakes in northern Minnesota and know firsthand the issues our lakes and rivers face, and the challenges that must be overcome. So much so, that I have dedicated my education and career to do what I can to protect them.

He continued, “I am working with an incredible team of [about] 40 researchers affiliated with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC.)”

Since the founding of the center in 2012, researchers have worked on 34 projects. Even more studies on invasive species are planned for the future.  The center has been recently been put under one roof. That will lead to certain efficiencies and enable easier collaboration between researchers.

Funding is received from the legislature, grants, and from others including contributions from private individuals and lake groups.

With so many invasive species, some already here, and many more threatening in nearby Lake Superior, the researchers feel that they can be most productive by carefully figuring out which are most important to Minnesota and then studying those intensively.

One approach is to find a weakness in an invasive species, a weakness that then can be exploited by the researchers.  Currently some researchers are analyzing zebra mussel DNA  looking for a chink in it armor.

Spiny waterfleas are also being researched.  Nearby Mille Lacs has them.  Some think they share in the decline of the walleye fishery there.  The spiny waterfleas compete directly with tiny bait fish for food.  That takes away food from all the larger fish up the food chain.

The latest invader, now in several lakes around St. Cloud and Bemidji is starry stonewort.  No one has found an effective control for this plant-like algae that forms dense mats. Researcher Dr. Dan Larkin is supervising experiments with it.

Imagine a large room filled with rows of big glass cylinders filled with water, each with a plant in it.  In this laboratory various herbicides will be tested on the invasive plants, looking to see what exposure time and strength are needed to incapacitate the plant.

The scientists are not confined to the laboratory. Researchers from MAISRC have come up from the Cities for on-the-lake projects in nearby Pelican Lake. They have other collaborations with the DNR throughout the state at various infestations.

Tom Watson, WAPOA President, affirmed that WAPOA is looking for ways to work with the researchers as they work in Crow Wing County.

Several WAPOA directors have been at the university research center in St. Paul on several occasions and were very impressed with the variety and intensity of the efforts.

Co-director at the research center, Becca Nash, encouraged those present to come to the upcoming Open House at the University Research Center.