Central Michigan University’s Institute for Great Lakes Research is at the forefront of detecting, tracking and mapping the spread of invasive species including faucet snails, small invaders that threaten waterfowl in the large Great Lakes coastal wetlands ecosystem.
“Preserving and restoring coastal wetlands and preventing their further destruction by the spread of invasive species such as the faucet snail is critical to ecosystem integrity,” said Donald Uzarski, IGLR director and professor of biology. “We are entering the fifth year of a five-year, basinwide project that covers 10,000 miles of shoreline in the U.S. and Canada, collecting data on every aspect of Great Lakes coastal wetlands with the goal of measuring ecosystem health.”
Led by Uzarski, CMU administrator of a $10 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, IGLR researchers including Tom Clement, Matt Cooper, Tom Gehring, Benjamin Heumann, Tom Langer, Neil Schock, Lee Schoen and Dave Schuberg are collecting chemical, physical and biological data from all Great Lakes basin coastal wetlands.
Their efforts recently yielded the discovery and addition of previously unknown locations of faucet snails
(Bithynia tentaculata) in the Great Lakes.
“We are able to populate databases such as those used by the U.S. Geological Survey with our data,” Uzarski said. “This helps everyone involved keep tabs on the locations of invasive species like the faucet snail.”
Introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1870s, presumably via the shipping industry, and found along rocky shorelines and on river and lake bottoms, faucet snails can grow up to 1/2 inch in length. They are non-native, invasive species that are known to:
- Carry three intestinal parasites that cause mortality in waterfowl;
- Quickly spread and establish dense populations;
- Compete with native snails;
- Threaten food webs; and
- Clog intake pipes or other submerged equipment.
Faucet snails spread by attaching themselves to aquatic plants, boats, anchors and other recreational equipment. They can close their shells and survive out of water for days, which makes eradicating infestations nearly impossible.
“The data that CMU researchers are collecting on every aspect of the ecosystem, from chemical and physical to biological parameters, at every coastal wetland in the Great Lakes basin provides us with much more information than our intended goal of measuring ecosystem health,” Uzarski said.
“Our data are becoming invaluable for the restoration and protection of the Laurentian Great Lakes ecosystem.”
Help stop the spread of faucet snails
The main way aquatic invasive species like faucet snails spread to new waters is often by hitching a ride on the boats and trailers of the very people who enjoy the water the most.
In conjunction with researchers from ten other universities — University of Notre Dame, Grand Valley State University, University of Minnesota-Duluth, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, University of Wisconsin-Superior, Lake Superior State University, University of Windsor, SUNY Brockport and Oregon State University — CMU researchers have studied more than 800 coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes basin, including those on Isle Royale.
The Great Lakes watershed covers areas in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania as well as two Canadian provinces.
Central Michigan University is a recognized leader in studying the Great Lakes, with more than 20 faculty in the Institute for Great Lakes Research supported by state-of-the-art facilities in Mount Pleasant and at the CMU Biological Station on Beaver Island. A $95 million Biosciences Building due to be completed in 2016 will provide enhanced infrastructure to support faculty and student research and classes.