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Can we stop 'poster child' of invasive species?

SPICER -- It only took two years from their initial discovery in waters between Lake Huron and Lake Erie in 1988 for zebra mussels to spread throughout all of the Great Lakes.

More recently, the invasive species has been found in the Lake Le Homme Dieu chain of lakes in Douglas County and below the Sartell dam on the Mississippi River near St. Cloud, both locations within an hour's drive of Green Lake in Spicer. Their presence in Lake Mille Lacs and recent discovery in Lake Minnetonka means that they are now found in four of the 10 most popular fishing tournament lakes in Minnesota.

What happens if they reach Green Lake in Kandiyohi County, one of the six lakes in that top 10 list still believed to be free of zebra mussels?

"They have the potential to really do serious harm to the whole ecological system of the lake, and that includes the fish,'' said Dick Sternberg, a retired Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fish biologist and well-known outdoor author. He spoke at an event sponsored by the Green Lake Property Owners Association on Aug. 28 at the Green Lake Bible Camp on Green Lake.

Sternberg said it's hard to predict the long-term impact of a zebra mussel infestation. "But it's safe to say less food for fish means less fish,'' he said.

Zebra mussels filter out the plankton that comprises the bottom of the food chain for baitfish in lakes.

They use hair-like byssal threads to attach themselves to virtually everything in a lake with a powerful, glue-like substance.

The finger-nail sized mussels crowd out native species, and coat the bottom with their mucous pseudo-feces, to the detriment of aquatic vegetation and organisms.

And, they are prolific. An adult female will produce one million eggs each year. The microscopic larval of the zebra mussels are known as villagers, and they disperse throughout the water columns of a lake like the white particles in a snow globe. They can live for days in as little as a teaspoon of water.

Boats and rivers are their primary means of getting from lake to lake, according to Sternberg. Tracking their spread from east to west in the U.S. is a matter of following the highways and river systems, he said.

The greatest threat comes from boats with complex plumbing systems, since the plumbing can hold water and the villagers in them between launchings.

He considers zebra mussels to be the ''poster child'' of biological invasive species due to the pervasive harm they can cause.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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