U professor proposes invasive species center

The center would study species like Asian carp, which have been detected in Minnesota waters recently

Matt Herbert

As Asian carp and zebra mussels force native species out of their habitats across Minnesota, University of Minnesota professor Peter Sorensen hopes to bring a research center to campus to gain a better understanding of invasive species.

The center’s objectives would revolve around developing new deterrent, control and eradication techniques, as well as work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and others in the state to combat the invasive species.

An invasive species is defined as an alien, non-native species whose introduction most likely causes economic and environmental damages or harm to human health.

Evidence of Asian carp has turned up in water samples in the St. Croix River. Asian carp are river dwelling fish, not lake dwelling.

Sorensen Asian carp, as well as other invasive species such as zebra mussels and common carp, are major threats to Minnesota waters and wildlife.

A major part of the proposed research at the center would go toward these species to better understand them, Sorenson said.

“No one’s really taken a hard look at this and no one’s really focused on how carp behave,”Sorenson told a legislative committee Thursday. “It’s important we find solutions to control these species so natural species are protected for future generations.”

The budget for the proposed research center would include a $2 million startup cost and $2 million operations cost per year for eight years.

Sorensen proposed his plan for a research center to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, a group that is in charge of making annual recommendations to the state Legislature on appropriations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

However, the council excluded the research center from heritage funding. Sorensen said there is a chance the center will come up in a bill at another time during the session.

In the committee meeting, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, expressed optimism for the project.

“I certainly hope this group and the Legislature can find a way to make this work,” McNamara said.

Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, is supportive of the project, but has concerns over funding.

“Invasive species are a problem for Minnesota,” Higgins said in an email. “I think the proposed research center is a good idea, though I am unsure of how we are going to fund the project.”

Much of the research that would take place at the University would involve investigating the behavior of many invasive fish species and developing repellents for Asian and common carp.

The proposed research center would be located on the St. Paul campus within the College of Food Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. It would provide research opportunities for up to seven graduate students as well as many undergraduates students.

Sorensen said that the U.S. has a different mindset compared to other countries around the world battling invasive species.

Countries like Australia and New Zealand use genetic engineering and disease research to combat invasive species. In the U.S., where the problem is much more recent, temporary methods like physical barriers and poisons have been used, Sorenson said.

“It would be great for the country. Our country needs to make an example and this [research center] could make Minnesota a leader in research on invasive species,” Sorenson said.