Alien invaders

Native species under threat

Lurking beneath the surface of your favourite lake. Cleverly disguised as harmless greenery. Crossing continents by hitching rides with unsuspecting travellers. Wiping out entire populations of native species in a matter of years.

From zebra mussels and Asian carp, to emerald ash borer and the bloody red shrimp, find out how Waterloo researchers stand on guard against the rising threat of invasive species.

Asian carp

Asian carp could wipe out the Great Lakes fishing industry

Fact: Release 1.9 million eggs per spawn

An Asian carp can grow up to 50 kilograms and consume about 20 per cent of its body weight daily, wiping out native fish populations. Kim Cuddington, a professor of biology in the Faculty of Science, found that as few as 10 Asian carp could establish a population in the Great Lakes and devastate a $7-billion fishing industry.

Zebra mussel

Zebra mussel inspires super glue for human body

Fact: $75M+ per year spent on Zebra mussels impact in Ontario 

Zebra mussels produce glue-like fibres that are nearly impossible to remove once they harden — even underwater. Boxin Zhao, a chemical engineering professor, is using the mussel as inspiration for developing a super glue that works underwater and conducts electricity. This glue could be used by surgeons to bond tissue and one day may support human tissue engineering.

Quagga mussel

How mussels are affecting one of Ontario’s top fishing spots

Fact: Quagga mussels can survive out of water for 7 DAYS

Ralph Smith, a professor of biology in the Faculty of Science, is part of a team working to model the impact quagga mussels have on the distribution of fish food and oxygen levels in Lake Simcoe — one of Ontario’s top recreational fishing destinations. His model also shows how climate change affects mussel populations.

Bloody red shrimp

Biologists research Great Lakes feeding grounds for bloody red shrimp

Fact: Bloody red shrimp were first discovered in the Great Lakes in 2006

In Europe, the bloody red shrimp has inflicted significant damage to aquatic species and plant life because of it's adaptive nature. As the newest invader to the Great Lakes, the nocturnal shrimp evades predators by hiding during the day. Jessica Ives (MSc '13) and Michael Power, a professor of biology in the Faculty of Science, used carbon and nitrogen isotopesis to understand where the shrimp are feeding and their effect on the food web.

Whitebark pine

Bill 167 is the Invasive Species Act introduced last year in the Ontario legislature

Fact: A tree species deemed endangered as a result of two invasive species

Brendon Larson, a professor in the Faculty of Environment, says it’s time to create laws that give policy makers more options to manage invasive species. He says there are complex situations where invasive species can’t be stopped and ecosystems can’t be returned to the way they were 200 years ago. One new approach is called assisted migration — a measure that involves moving affected plants and trees to new ground.

Phragmites australis

Phragmites australis is Canada’s worst invasive plant

Fact: Invasive reed grows up to 5 metres

At up to five metres tall, the aggressive, fast-spreading perennial reed known as the Phragmites australisis threatening Ontario’s biodiversity and wetlands. It’s replacing the marsh meadows and cattail plants, a crucial habitat for migrating birds. Rebecca Rooney, a biologist in the Faculty of Science, is identifying the impact of the invasive grass on bird populations and diversity at Long Point Marsh in Lake Erie.

Anicent red algae

Ancient red algae quietly taking over rocky shorelines of the Great Lakes

Fact: 160 million-year-old invader is from Europe and Asia

Bangia atropurpurea, also known as ancient red algae, has been replacing a species that is a staple in the food chain. Kristen Müller, an expert in algae taxonomy, believes it’s appearance and proliferation suggests it has been spread with the help of humans via transoceanic shipping.


Invoking change from the ground up

Fact: 19 of Canada's 27 earthworms species came from Europe

Earthworms are usually a welcome addition to any garden or field. They can increase the amount of air and water in the soil and help break down dead organic matter. But 19 of Canada’s 27 earthworm species are European imports. When they enter a new ecosystem, things start to change, literally from the ground up.