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New Capture of Bighead Carp Confirms eDNA Detection Works

Tool Developed by Scientists from The Nature Conservancy and the University of Notre Dame Proven Successful


CHICAGO, IL | June 25, 2010

News of the first live capture of a bighead carp in Lake Calumet, Ill., on Tuesday, June 22 between the electric barrier in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and Lake Michigan confirms the presence of live Asian carp close to Lake Michigan and validates earlier discoveries of Asian carp environmental DNA (eDNA).

The eDNA (DNA in microscopic bits of tissue shed from the fish) was discovered by a research group comprised of Lindsay Chadderton of The Nature Conservancy along with Notre Dame biologists David Lodge, Andrew Mahon, and Christopher Jerde. The team’s eDNA discoveries prompted increased management efforts by government agencies over the last few months, including dramatically increased efforts to capture or kill Asian carp in the CAWS.

The first capture of a bighead carp occurred long after many detections of bighead carp eDNA above the electric barrier. It confirms that eDNA surveillance is a reliable indicator of the presence of live carp and that eDNA surveillance is more likely than netting to detect the fish when they are not present in great abundance. Last year, the research team detected DNA from silver carp in the Calumet River and Calumet Harbor on Lake Michigan. The team also detected DNA from both silver carp and bighead carp just south of Lake Calumet on the other side of the O’Brien Lock and Dam, which can be traversed by fish when the lock is open.

“This proves our methods work,” Chadderton said. “While controlling the spread of Asian carp is a complex issue, early detection is a key first step in the process of managing the population to prevent the spread of this aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes.”

Chadderton said that The Nature Conservancy’s aquatic invasive species strategy for the Great Lakes has three central parts:

  • Prevention: This strategy offers the greatest benefit for the least cost. The Conservancy is supporting enhanced port inspections and voluntary efforts to eliminate intentional introductions of non-native, invasive species.
  • Early Detection/Rapid Response: Use of tools like eDNA detection can help assist public and private organizations to potentially stop and control the spread of an invasives population before it causes widespread damage.
  • Restoration: Removing known invasives and restoring an area to pre-invasion conditions can help nature rebound from problems caused by invasives.

The Notre Dame-Conservancy research effort to detect eDNA of Asian carp in the CAWS began last summer, with support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In cooperation with multiple federal and state agencies, future eDNA research by the Notre Dame-The Nature Conservancy team will focus on refining the eDNA tool for use throughout the Great Lakes and beyond. As of this month, the regular monitoring of eDNA in the CAWS has been transitioned to biologists in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The eDNA research illustrates the effectiveness of the partnership between the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Aquatic Conservation and The Nature Conservancy. In cooperation with government agencies, the partnership between the Conservancy and Notre Dame has proved the team can quickly contribute to diagnosing and helping to solve urgent environmental problems like invasive species.


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.

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