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Invasive species Asian Carp, Oak Wilt at northern Ontario's border, researchers say

Scientists at the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste Marie are readying for the battle against two new invasive species..

“Everyone can have a role in invasive species prevention,” centre's director says

Staff with the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie say they're still working with governmental and non-governmental agencies to keep the Asian Carp at bay. (Associated Press)

Scientists at the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste Marie are readying for the battle against two new invasive species..

The Asian Carp, a large fish, and Oak Wilt Fungus, which attacks oak trees, are knocking on northern Ontario's door. 

Sarah Rang, the executive director at the Invasive Species Centre, said the Asian Carp could take over whole ecosystems.

"If you like to fish you'll know it as a big, giant fish," Rang said. "A very big feeder and a rapid reproducer."

According to the centre's web site, Asian carp refers to four species of carp – Bighead, Black, Grass, and Silver also known as the "flying carp"– which are all native to the rivers, reservoirs, and lakes in China and southern Russia.

"It has the potential to wipe out a lot of the fisheries that we have that we rely on both for our recreation but also for our income," Rang said. 

Rang said the fisheries along Lake Erie are susceptible to an enormous disruption if the carp takes hold.

"It eats so much, it basically eats the food that other fish would eat," Rang said. "So it has the potential to wipe out the fish that we rely on in terms of going out and enjoying a day out on the water."

"But it also can dig into the water and make the water very muddy and that has impacts on other things that like to use the water in terms of many native species as well."

Although the carp is native to Asia, it has been in American waterways since the 1960s. It was introduced as a form of biological control in aquaculture facilities, but at least three of the species escaped during floods. 

Rang said the effort to keep them out has been an international one, involving both governmental and non-governmental groups.

"There's a number of early detection and monitoring programs so that we can tell where Asian carp is," Rang said. "There's a number of tools that we can use to retrofit some of our bridges and locks and dams to make it much harder for Asian carp to migrate up those rivers from the southern US into the Great Lakes."

Oak Wilt disease is a fungus carried from tree to tree by beetles. It can quickly destroy oak trees, the Centre for Invasive Species says. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

Rang said researchers are also working to keep Oak Wilt at bay.

"It's a fungus that attacks oak, [and] it has a huge impact in terms of actually killing oak trees relatively quickly."

Rang said the fungus– carried by beetles from tree to tree–  interferes with the tree's ability to transport water from the roots to the leaves. 

"So you can imagine if you don't get water to a plant or a tree for a number of days and weeks, it quite quickly can die," Rang said. " So that's really what Oak Wilt does –  it attacks a tree like all the different species of oak, and it can cause rapid decline and even death of oak trees."

Rang said the are working with people – enlisting the help of everyday citizens – to learn to identify the fungus and report it.

"So anyone can have a role in terms of invasive species," she said. "And having those eyes on the ground to actually increase our ability to respond quickly. Everyone can have a role in terms of invasive species prevention."

We're talking invasive species and perhaps one you've never heard of. We chatted with executive director Sarah Rang from the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie about some of the threats facing northeastern Ontario. 7:19

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