Central Texas and the Spread of Zebra Mussels


Recently, evidence of Dreissena polymorpha (zebra mussel) infestation was reported in Stillhouse Hollow lake near Waco, TX. Infestations have been reported in nearby Lake Belton since 2012 and there was a scare in Lake Waco in 2014; though, thankfully, the infestation there was contained to a single marina and the colony was able to be eliminated through capping the area with plastic sheeting. Ten years or so ago, it was thought that zebra mussels would not be able to survive this far south. After all, they first thrived in cold lake Michigan; however, this analysis has been proven wrong time and time again. The zebra mussel is endemic to the Caspian and Black Seas, massive water bodies with a great deal of ecosystem diversity. In North America, the zebra and closely related quagga (Dreissena bugensis) have infested waters from upstate New York and Canada, to the brackish waters of southern Louisiana, to the dry and hot climates around Lake Powell in southern Utah, to, yes, central Texas. These species are extremely adaptable and grow very quickly, making them an especially difficult invasive to control. An August 17th article on the Waco Tribune’s online site put the danger of zebra mussel infestation in near apocalyptic terms:

“Even the most optimistic people concede it’s likely that zebra mussel infestations are an inevitability in most Texas rivers and reservoirs, and like in other places, we’ll just have to manage the problem with money and manpower.”

Now, I certainly concede that the spread of infestation has progressed in a predictably rapid fashion that closely mirrors their expansion in the rest of the country; however, the fatalistic attitude expressed here is simply a failure of imagination and a lack of faith in American ingenuity. It is true that traditional methods to stop the spread of zebra and quagga mussels have been largely unsuccessful and at EQO, we are of the opinion that funding to control the spread of invasive species can be spent more effectively and efficiently though the adoption of next-generation methodologies. While we have not yet completed our development of a next-gen biologic for the treatment of infestations, there are methods on the market capable of stopping early stage and localized infestations. The incident at Lake Waco in 2014, cited here and in the article the above quote is taken from, is an excellent example that should offer hope, not pessimism. The infestation was limited to a small region and was caught prior to its ability to spread throughout the lake, as such, a simple, physical method was able to stop the spread and significantly limit the zebra mussel population. Sure, follow-up monitoring needs to be performed to ensure that this infestation was truly eradicated, but the initial results are very encouraging. However, the ability to stop this infestation hinged far too heavily on luck. If it wasn’t for a knowledgeable, concerned citizen, the Lake Waco infestation likely would have spread. We cannot be reliant on luck to solve this problem. Current methodologies employed to detect and monitor aquatic invasive species are incapable of detecting and quantifying zebra and quagga mussels early enough to reliably prevent infestation. Our methods are capable of this. In the field of cancer research, the phrase “early detection is prevention is cure” has become quite popular, this is likely, equally true in the field of invasive species management. Further more, there are other companies, in addition to EQO, hard at work developing treatments that are safe and effective for the eradication of zebra and quagga mussels. As these projects proceed, it is possible, even likely, that we will collaboratively be able to offer combinatorial therapeutic regimens to effectively treat and eliminate infestations. The Waco Tribune claimed that “the most optimistic people concede” the inevitability of state-wide infestation, I am happy to let them know that companies like EQO, Marrone Bio, and others are hard at work to prove this wrong. We may be optimists, but we are rational optimists with good science on our side.

Waco Tribune article:http://www.wacotrib.com/sports/outdoors/outdoors-help-prevent-zebra-mussels-from-invading-texas-waterways/article_400c1ca3-9a3e-53ef-9b5a-2f4ee377ed89.html