Our big world is really small. The last century's innovations in global travel and communication brought ease of exploration beyond our borders. Shipping and air travel have made life easier for many. But with the increasing ease of global travel, there have been unintended consequences, including plants and animals traveling outside their natural ecosystems. While not all imported species cause issues, those that reproduce quickly, have no natural predators and grow in less-than-ideal conditions can quickly & drastically change local biological communities. Here are a few invasive species that could impact Lake of the Ozarks.
A nine-headed monster is probably not on the top of your list of things to worry about at the Lake. But there is one lurking in lakes, ponds, and streams across Missouri and its impact is far scarier than the 'Creature from the Blue Lagoon'. Hydrilla is an invasive plant from areas around India. It was introduced in the 1950s as a decorative aquarium plant. It has no natural predators or disease to control its growth here and it can sprout more “heads” from just a small piece of root or stem. The weed was named after “Hydra of Lerna” the nine-headed serpent from Greek and Roman mythology. With the ability to grow 1” in a day, Hydrilla can quickly take over waterways and have a negative economic and environmental impact ecosystems by impeding fishing, boating, and swimming. Fisheries Management Biologist, Greg Stoner, says the Lake has been lucky so far and no Hydrilla has been here. Some has been spotted in upper portions of the Niangua River near Marshfield.
Can something smaller than a dime cause billions of dollars in damage and wipe out a species? It sure can! The Zebra mussel is native to Europe and Asia, but arrive in North American waterways in the 1980s. While just a tiny creature, a female can produce one million eggs a year. These new mussels attach to anything they come in contact with including docks, boat hulls, power plants and more, clogging water intakes and damaging surfaces. Because they reproduce in such large volumes, these huge populations also consume nutrients in the water, depleting food sources for many native mussels. Zebra mussels are present in the Lake of the Ozarks, but Stoner reports the area has been fairly lucky because we have not seen as much property damage as other areas have. The population spiked at the Lake between 2006-2007, but appears to have knocked back in recent years and has not blossomed as they have in other areas.
Our third, and final threat is a bit unusual. You’ve heard of a scaredy cat, but what about a scaredy fish? Silver carp, one of several Asian carp species in the state, are notorious for their unusual behavior when they get startled. While most fish swim for cover when they sense danger, a silver carp will breach the water's surface, much like a whale. These acrobatic fish could easily complete in the X-Games, catching air up to 10.’ While it may be a stunning display to watch it can have an equally stunning and dangerous impact on anglers and boats. The fish can easily reach 50 pounds and have been known to break noses, brow bones and eye sockets. They are also filter feeders, competing for the same nutrients as native paddlefish. While silver carp are regularly found in the Osage River, Bagnell Dam seems to have prevented them from migrating to the Lake. Over the years, a dozen or so have popped up on the radar. Stoner says in the 90s a few silver carp were stocked in the Lake, but the population is not self-sustaining and no young fish have been reported.
Beware The Look-Alike!
Gizzard shad—good guys—and young silver carp—bad guys—can look pretty similar. So be sure not to get them confused and accidentally introduce more invasive silver carp to the Lake.
What You Can Do...
Careful boating and fishing habits greatly reduce the chance of any of these species ever getting a foothold in the Lake of the Ozarks.