Sea lamprey research could be game changer in lamprey control, says AgBioResearch scientist

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Sea LampreysA repellent for sea lampreys could be the key to better controlling one of the most destructive invasive species in the Great Lakes, according to MSU AgBioResearch scientist Michael Wagner.

Researchers have seen the effect that alarm cues have on lampreys. When scents from dead sea lampreys are poured into a tank of live ones, the lampreys’ efforts to escape are dramatic. In the past, these reactions were simply dismissed as novel. But Wagner, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife, sees this reaction as a potential game changer.

“Sea lampreys are one of the most costly and destructive Great Lakes invaders,” said Wagner, who published his results in the July 2011 issue of the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. “The effectiveness of the odor combined with the ease in which it’s obtained suggests that it will prove quite useful in controlling sea lampreys in the Great Lakes.”

Discovering an effective repellent puts research to control sea lampreys on a new path.

Scientists had proven that the destructive species relies on the odor emitted by past generations of larvae to navigate into streams with suitable spawning grounds. Upon arrival, another odor emitted by mature males lures females onto nests to complete spawning. Research based on these observations has fully focused on using pheromones to attract sea lampreys into traps. Once caged, they are destroyed or sterilized and released back into the wild so they can be tracked but cannot reproduce.

Many scent and environmental cues exist in natural waterways, however, so using pheromones to attract sea lampreys doesn’t always work. Repellents – even in miniscule amounts – may prove to be much more effective in diverting and corralling them, Wagner said.

“It’s kind of like a stop light, a noxious odor that causes them to run away from its source,” he said. “By blocking certain streams with these chemical dams, we can steer sea lamprey away from environmentally sensitive areas and into waterways where pesticides could be used more effectively to eliminate a larger, more concentrated population of them.”

This approach would allow agencies that control invasive species to save money, use less pesticide and manage other resources more efficiently yet have a bigger impact on controlling the invasive species, Wagner added.

“Thanks to this exciting new research on alarm substances, we believe we are on track to bring sea lamprey control to a whole new level,” said Robert Lambe, chairperson of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Wagner is continuing his research to isolate the exact chemical compound that causes the alarm. His work is supported by AgBioResearch and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

To view videos of sea lamprey alarm responses, see “Sea Lamprey Panic Response - Underwater Viewand “Sea Lamprey Panic Response.”

Photo: Sea Lampreys

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