Brittle Naiad, Eurasian Watermilfoil, and Spiny Waterflea, Oh My!
In the midst of controversy over Kylie Jenner taking private jets on multiple vacations and paper straws becoming a thing, Vermont’s beloved water bodies have been battling aquatic invasive species. Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are nonnative and are a nuisance, such as brittle naiad (Najas minor), Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicaturn), spiny waterflea (Bythotrephes longimanus), and others, which are all currently found in Vermont’s waters. As someone who has worked with AIS in Vermont, specifically at the Waterbury Reservoir, I understand firsthand the environmental damage and effects that invasives cause. Aquatic invasive species are a significant issue that threatens ecosystem function, water quality, natural resources, and native plant species in Vermont. We must all work together to help mitigate, stop the spread, and monitor them. Across Vermont, there are many aquatic invasive species monitoring programs, such as zebra mussel and spiny waterflea monitoring. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VDEC) stated that they have been working with the Lake Champlain Basin Program on a Zebra Mussel Monitoring Program to track zebra mussel distribution in Lake Champlain. With this data, they are able to determine the effects that zebra mussels pose to the lake’s aquatic ecosystem. Zebra mussels are detrimental to ecosystems because they filter out algae that native species rely on for feeding, as well as adhering to and immobilizing native mussels. Spiny waterflea monitoring (a species of zooplankton) is also conducted in Lake Champlain and is monitored by the VDEC. Harmful ecosystem effects that spiny waterfleas cause include eating native zooplankton species that are important to the aquatic food web. Both of these AIS have a wide range of harmful effects on aquatic ecosystems, which is why all of us must do our part to monitor and prevent their spread. Preventing the transport of aquatic invasive species between lakes is one of the best strategies to help stop the spread. The VDEC uses boat access greeters as an invasive species spread prevention tactic. So far, the program has prevented 530 AIS fragments, debris, and animals from entering waterbodies across Vermont. As a boat access greeter for the Friends of the Waterbury Reservoir, I can attest to its impact on our waterways. Because of the boat access greeter program along with other monitoring efforts, the Waterbury Reservoir is free of Eurasian Watermilfoil, which is commonly seen in other waterbodies around Vermont. Even though there are spread prevention efforts such as the boat access greeter program in place at the Waterbury Reservoir, it is still infested with Brittle Naiad. As said in the name, Brittle Naiad is extremely brittle and easily breaks to the touch, with helps it spread easily within a waterbody, thus inhibiting the growth of native plant species. It can also take in all the available dissolved oxygen, leading to anoxic zones and a loss of aquatic life. Due to their brittleness, we must act to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species such as these before they destroy the ecosystem. The University of New Hampshire published an article titled: Can Invasive Species be Beneficial for Wildlife?, in which they suggested that invasive plant species can bring different advantages to the survival of some species by increasing the abundance of food, thus enhancing the survival of select species. This statement is not true for all species, as numerous native plants and animals suffer from the presence of invasive species. Invasive species are a threat to biodiversity, the ecosystem, and the environment by blocking sunlight from entering the waterbody, hindering native plants from growing and outcompeting resources that native animals require. We must not rely on invasive species to increase the survival of just a few species at the cost of ecosystem function. The longer that Brittle Naiad remains in the Waterbury Reservoir, the longer it will take to rescue the native plants and animals, allowing aquatic invasive species in any water body to repopulate and thrive. There are several actions that people can take to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Vermont Fish and Wildlife says that after going into or out of a waterbody, cleaning and removing any aquatic fragments, plants, animals, mud, or any other debris from the watercraft, trailers, and other water-related items is an effective way to stop the spread of invasive species. They also suggest that draining bilges, liver wells, wet wells, bait containers, and boat motors can help with spread prevention efforts as debris or fragments of aquatic invasive plants can be discovered there. Drying off the watercraft and water-related equipment is another way to prevent the spread due to the AIS needing water or moisture to survive. In order to stop aquatic hitchhikers and their spread, watercrafts must be cleaned, drained, and dried before and after use to prevent fragments or debris from entering other water bodies. I urge everyone to take these simple actions that will prevent AIS from entering our waterbodies. If these actions are not taken seriously, AIS will negatively impact the health of Vermont’s water bodies and aquatic habitats through altering the ecosystem, in addition to outcompeting native species for resources and habitat.
By Jaylyn Davidson