Western Waters Invasive Species and Disease Research Program

Science Center Objects

Researchers at the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center's Western Waters Invasive Species and Disease Research Program work extensively with federal, state, tribal, regional, and local partners to deliver science to improve early detection and prevention of invasive species and disease; understand complex interactions that promote invasive species and disease, and their impacts (and associated uncertainties); develop robust models to predict invasion risk, spread and vulnerability for planning and mitigation; and deliver decision support tools to help stakeholders prevent, prepare, and manage invasive species and disease across the West. NOROCK has extensive experience collaborating with resource managers across diverse ecosystems ranging from arid lands, to mountainous landscapes, to alpine environments throughout the western United States, including Alaska.

Western waters support some of the most intact aquatic ecosystems in North America, yet invasive species (plants, wildlife) and emerging infectious diseases (EID) pose significant and immediate threats to these ecosystems. Ongoing habitat loss, increased transportation and transmission pathways, and climate change will facilitate further expansion in the coming decades. The ecological impacts of invasive species and disease are often irreversible and far-reaching, including reductions in the distribution, abundance, and diversity of native species. Moreover, invasive species and disease outbreaks have significant impacts on local and regional economies via losses in recreational value and the enormous costs to mitigate their effects.

Filtering water for eDNA sample collection in Yellowstone National Park between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes.
Filtering water for eDNA sample collection in Yellowstone National Park between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes.(Public domain.)

Invasive species can include plants (Eurasian watermilfoil), animals (quagga mussel), and emerging infectious diseases (amphibian chytrid fungus). Identifying factors associated with invasion dynamics and risks to aquatic ecosystems and economies is critical for (1) prevention and early detection; (2) developing effective mitigation strategies to suppress, eradicate, or arrest further spread of invasive species and disease; and (3) identifying habitats and populations that are vulnerable to invasive species and disease. This work is particularly urgent as invasive species can rapidly expand their ranges or increase disease transmission under shifting climatic conditions, such as periodic drought, in the western United States.

Land and water managers are often overwhelmed with persistent threats and impacts of invasive species and disease on ecologically, economically, and socially important natural resources. Despite considerable monitoring and advances in awareness and prevention of the spread of invasive species and disease, there remains a lack of direct applications where data and information are integrated in a common framework to better understand the processes and impacts of to inform mitigation actions. Development and validation of tools to effectively prioritize management actions is imperative for managers to quickly and cost-effectively combat the ecological and economic threats of invasive species and disease. 

 

Western Waters Invasive Species and Disease Research Program

NOROCK conducts applied research and monitoring to improve understanding of invasive species and disease risks and impacts on human and natural systems in the West through coordinated and multidisciplinary data collection, synthesis, analysis, predictions and decision-support generated from multi-agency partnerships. NOROCK’s Western Waters Invasive Species and Disease Research Program’s Core Capabilities include:

An invasive American bullfrog with tracking device.
An invasive American bullfrog with tracking device.  (Public domain.)

Data collection and integration

  • Monitor invasive species and disease  through field-based and molecular (e.g., environmental DNA) data observation and monitoring networks that maximize spatial and temporal coverage
  • Develop and advance new invasive monitoring tools and technologies
  • Facilitate citizen science for crowdsourced data related to invasive detection

Understanding processes and impacts

  • Synthesize large datasets and models to understand invasive drivers, ecosystem responses and interactions with human uses and climatic events, such as extreme drought
  • Develop robust models to predict invasion risk and vulnerability for decision making
  • Examine and synthesize ecological impacts of invasive species and disease for on-the-ground conservation management
Capturing juvenile bull trout by electroshocking Logging Creek and then transporting them to another lake upstream.
Capturing juvenile bull trout by electroshocking Logging Creek and then transporting them in a backpack up the trail to Grace Lake.(Public domain.)

Planning and decision-support

  • Predict future invasion risk and vulnerability on species and ecosystems with comprehensive understanding of invasion and disease processes, impacts, and recovery times
  • Deliver decision-support guides that link research, monitoring, forecasting and early warning with risk planning and management
  • Provide technical assistance to address stakeholders’ needs
  • Create and deliver multimedia to communicate with stakeholders, policymakers, and the public

 

These core capabilities allow NOROCK to assist our management partners in creating information-based frameworks for combating invasive species and disease, and mitigating impacts on livelihoods, ecosystems, and the economy. Prioritizing approaches, populations and landscapes for action will ultimately increase the cost-effectiveness of invasive species and disease management and allow for greater capacity of enhancing ecosystems.