Researchers check Flathead Lake for invasive species

Posted at 3:13 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 15:03:56-04

BIGFORK – Scientists with the Flathead Lake Biological Station are sampling Flathead Lake for aquatic invasive species.

Warmer weather brings more eager to enjoy 360 views of Flathead Lake but for researchers with the Flathead Lake Biological Station, it means gearing up to defend the lake against the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Phil Matson was part of a three-person research team Monday collecting water samples to determine if Flathead Lake is positive.

“We have 31 sites around Flathead Lake that we sample. Twelve of them are from the boat and 19 are from the shoreline,” Matson said.

But when you’re looking for the new arrival of an invasive species it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.

Matson and a team of two others zeroed in on six hot spots in the northern half of the lake sampling from both the surface and bottom of the lake on Monday. It’s called a plankton tow sample.

Essentially a net is drudged through the water to collect plankton. It will be sent to the University of Montana with results expected back in about two or three weeks.

UM will test the samples for the presence of environmental DNA like old shells or decaying matter. The samples will also be sent to Helena where they will be tested for the presence of adult mussels also known as “Veligers.”

“If we have a positive detection from the Veligers that is hard evidence for the state to say that yes we do have a population a breeding population of dressinoid mussels in the lake,” Matson said.

Matson added that a positive detection with the eDNA is not necessarily a positive detection but it just means they could be the present so they would need to go and take a further look.

As these waters soon welcome visitors from all over the region — Matson and members of the station vow to do all they can to keep the dreaded mussels from entering the lake.

Next week the station will be sampling with crew members from the Confederated, Salish and Kootenai Tribes for a second round of testing.

Reporting by Nicole Miller for MTN News