Stopping the next wave of invasive species in Saskatchewan lakes

By Costa Maragos Posted: December 5, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Lushani Nanayakkara has surveyed hundreds of Saskatchewan lake users, forming the basis of her study published in the science journal Biological Invasions.
Lushani Nanayakkara has surveyed hundreds of Saskatchewan lake users, forming the basis of her study published in the science journal Biological Invasions. Photo courtesy of Brittany Hesjedal

Invasive species continue to be a critical threat to freshwater ecosystems in Saskatchewan and across North America.

But the species that have yet to enter Saskatchewan waters might be of greatest concern.

Zebra and Quagga mussels are invasive species from Eurasia that have severely altered the ecosystems of the Great Lakes and many other water bodies in North America.

Now, these mussels are making their way toward Saskatchewan. The good news? They’re not here yet.

Educating lake users about the fact that the mussels are not in this province yet might be the key to preventing them from getting here, according to research from Lushani Nanayakkara, a PhD candidate in Aquatic Ecology in the Biology Department. She is working under the supervision of Drs. Björn Wissel and Peter Leavitt.

Nanayakkara’s survey on lake-user perceptions and knowledge of prairie lakes, was conducted in 2016. Her results have been published in the journal Biological Invasions.

The 476 respondents included lake users along areas of Saskatchewan including the Qu’Appelle River systems and Buffalo Pound Lake, Last Mountain Lake, Fishing Lake, Wakaw Lake, Little Manitou Lake and Redberry Lake.

The key finding?

People are aware of the existence of zebra and quagga mussels, but about 75 per cent of the respondents were unaware that these invasive species have yet to enter Saskatchewan waters.

“People might think that the battle is lost, that these invasive species have invaded our lakes and there’s not much else that can be done,” says Nanayakkara   

“The danger of such misconceptions might decrease the likelihood of engaging people in preventative behaviours and that will ultimately undermine the province’s management objectives.”

(l-r) The Quagga and Zebra mussels have severely altered the ecosystems of
major waterways including the Great Lakes. Photos courtesy of Invasive Species
Council of BC.

According to the paper, there’s a need to critically evaluate current outreach and communication efforts relating to invasive mussels.

“We need to emphasize the impact of individual actions on transporting mussels. Knowing these species are not in our lakes might motivate people to ensure they stay out,” says Nanayakkara.   

Lake users, however, are well aware of other species not native to Saskatchewan waters, including carp, goldfish, and koi.  

“Most people are certainly aware of those species but we need an urgent awareness campaign to ensure that people don’t get comfortable with the idea that ‘if mussels are already here, then why do anything about it,” says Nanayakkara.

She urges stakeholders to come together, including provincial / federal agencies, lake associations, fishing tournament organizers, recreation organizations, citizen science groups and universities, to “help prevent mussel contaminated watercrafts from entering the province.”

Prior to coming to the U of R, Nanayakkara earned her Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and her Bachelor’s in Zoology at Ohio Weslayen University in Delaware, Ohio.

Funding for her research was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant to Dr. Björn Wissel and Teaching Assistance and Research scholarships from the University of Regina and the Government of Saskatchewan

Dr. Rozzet Jurdi-Hage (Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Studies) was a collaborator on this project and co-author of the paper. Assistance for the study was also provided by Ron Hlasny at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment and the U of R’s Dr. Kyle Hodder (Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies).