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Invasive exotic species

Invasive exotic species, whether plants or animals, are a significant threat to biodiversity: they can cause a decline in indigenous species and irreversibly upset the natural balance that existed before their introduction.

Projects 2016-2021

Raise public awareness about aquatic invasive species

Aquatic invasive species, such as the zebra mussel, common water reed and green crab, are a danger to Quebec biodiversity. They multiply faster than local species and compete with them for the same resources. Citizens need to be aware of these species, so they can help detect them early and limit their spread.

The goal of this project is to produce information sheets that communities, river users (fishers, recreational boaters, municipalities) and citizens can consult at any time.

Improve the detection and monitoring of aquatic invasive species

In the first phase of this project, our experts established new sampling methods for aquatic invasive species (AIS). The goal was to develop monitoring tools to help in the early detection of AIS, when they are still in the precolonization phase, meaning when they are present in low numbers in a given aquatic ecosystem, or to monitor the progression of an already established species.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis is a method used to detect the DNA of targeted species in a water sample. Without casting aside traditional monitoring methods such as specimen sampling by capture or collection, eDNA analysis can detect a species even when its DNA is in the water in only very small quantities. A species’ DNA can be found in the water in different forms, such as bodily fluids (gametes, blood, mucus, etc.), organic waste, and even fragments of skin, scales and decomposing structures (leaves, stems, carcasses, etc.).  

In the project’s second phase, the goal of our experts is to design and improve AIS monitoring methods. For example, in addition to designing ways to detect a greater number of AISs, some of which are already at Quebec’s doorstep, they expand the monitoring areas in the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, focus on the areas of greatest concern and increase the annual sampling frequency. Also, better sampling protocols are developed.

Develop a response plan to control aquatic invasive species

Aquatic invasive species pose a risk to ecosystem health. When they are detected in a new sector of the St. Lawrence, a rapid and effective response is required. A series of measures adapted specifically for the identified species can be implemented. Individuals can be eliminated or their spread limited, for example, by capturing them or installing barriers to block them. In every case, the goal is to control the presence and spread of these species as much as possible.

The initial phase of the SLAP project led to the development of the first version of a response plan to control aquatic invasive species. In the project’s second phase, this plan will be finalized and then tested under real or simulated conditions. These steps help to effectively guide responses on the ground and ensure effective communication between the different actors involved.

Study invasive alien fish species and their impact on freshwater mussels

The freshwater mussels that live in the St. Lawrence River have an unusual method of spreading their progeny: their larvae cling to fish gills and fins. Once metamorphosis takes place, the juvenile mussels drop off and continue their development. However, since the late 1990s, a new invasive fish species has made its way into the river: the round goby.

In the first phase of the SLAP, our specialists showed in the laboratory that freshwater mussel larvae, which are commonly found in the St. Lawrence River, fail to develop normally in the gills of this alien fish species, which releases them before their metamorphosis can be completed. The works done in the second phase help in determining the risk of invasive alien fish species, like the round goby, to the survival of rare or threatened native freshwater mussels. To achieve this, our specialists use, among other things,  the genetic tools designed in the first phase of the SLAP to identify freshwater mussel larvae clinging to the round goby and other invasive alien fish species found in the St. Lawrence River.

Detect the spread and assess the impacts of alien parasites

In 2012, researchers discovered an exotic parasite, Schyzocotyle acheilognathi, in Lake Saint-Louis. This fish tapeworm introduced into North America by Asian carp can infect a large number of fish families, including cyprinids. The parasite causes weight loss in fish and can result in death, especially in young fish. The pathogen can also infect live baitfish that outfitters sell for sport fishing. In order to limit the spread of aquatic invasive species and pathogenic organisms, Quebec has imposed stricter regulations concerning the use of fish bait.

As part of this project, our experts will study three important aspects of this issue to assess the impact of this exotic parasite. They will examine whether the parasite is spreading and becoming established in the St. Lawrence and identify factors that promote its dispersion (e.g. exotic fish), or limit it (e.g. cold climate). They will assess to what extent the new Quebec legislation on baitfish is effective in preventing sport fishers from spreading the parasite without knowing it. Finally, they will closely monitor the state of health of native fish affected by the parasite.

Projects 2011-2016

Evaluate the effects of invasive exotic fish on freshwater mussels indigenous to the St. Lawrence

Several species of freshwater mussels in the St. Lawrence are at risk: six are on the list of species likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable under Quebec legislation, and another is considered to be endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of this research project is to evaluate the hypothesis that the round goby would act as an “imposter” host for the larvae of certain species of indigenous mussels and would damage their recruitment and spread. The situation could also be the opposite: the goby could be a compatible host for mussel larvae, which would thus be favoured.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Coordinate initiatives relating to aquatic invasive species and priority vectors of introduction

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has conducted risk assessments concerning the introduction of aquatic invasive species and of related vectors of introduction. The selection of species and vectors for these assessments has so far been based on consultations carried out by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the National Aquatic Invasive Species Committee (NAISC). Incorporating stakeholders affected by this issue into the process will help to build further consensus and harmonize intervention priorities.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Develop shared information and awareness tools about invasive exotic species

Although some invasive exotic species have been introduced into the St. Lawrence ecosystem inadvertently, others have been added voluntarily with similar undesirable effects. As a result, education is the most effective approach for limiting their spread. The pooling of various initiatives and information and awareness raising tools about invasive exotic species can help to harmonize approaches and the messages conveyed. This exercise will also assist in planning and developing new tools and documents that are more general in nature for wider distribution.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Harmonize detection and monitoring programs and activities relating to aquatic invasive species and identify problems

A number of participants and collaborators in the St. Lawrence Action Plan 2011-2026 are carrying out activities to detect and monitor the spread of aquatic invasive species. The harmonization of these programs and activities will support the identification of any gaps in terms of geographic sectors, species or habitats and assist in the development of complementary programs and activities to address these gaps.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Develop joint action and response plans in the event of detection of aquatic invasive species

In addition to their capacity to survive in a range of different habitats and climates, aquatic invasive species typically have few or no predators and are less vulnerable to disease. These two factors help them to spread quickly, thereby disrupting the equilibrium of their adopted environment, often irreversibly. In this context, response plans will be developed to set out priority actions and identify the organizations designated to respond in the event new aquatic invasive species are discovered. Simulation exercises will also be conducted to prepare stakeholders for taking effective, coordinated action to limit the spread of these species.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Harmonize databases on aquatic invasive species

Several participants and collaborators have compiled databases on aquatic invasive species. Harmonizing the information held in these databases will make it easier to compile a general picture of the situation.

Read the backgrounder for this project.

Develop an aquatic invasive species component at the St. Lawrence Global Observatory

A number of participants and collaborators in the St. Lawrence Action Plan 2011-2026 have been producing and disseminating a broad variety of data and information concerning aquatic invasive species. Developing a component on these species at the St. Lawrence Global Observatory will help to increase access to this information both to the public and the organizations that produced it.

Read the backgrounder for this project.