Casey Huckins, Biological Sciences
Colin Brooks, MTRI
Science, Systems, and Solutions
Helping communities eliminate invasive species means we get into the weeds. Casey Huckins and Colin Brooks work together in the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw Waterway, inland lakes of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and Les Cheneaux Islands within the Straits of Mackinac, where Eurasian Watermilfoil has spread. The invader alters ecosystems, chokes local waterways, and has stymied tourism that drives the area's economy.
Brooks has a solution up in the air—he flies a modified hexacopter to do Eurasian Watermilfoil surveys.
His hexacopter is an efficient and reliable tool for field mapping an 800-acre area. The nuance of drone footage feeds back into the satellite data, and Brooks is developing methods to see milfoil from space. Specifically, he is using spectrometer data to discern different signatures of plants from reflected light that returns from earth to the atmosphere. Milfoil has a distinct—and very green—fingerprint in reflectance data.
Huckins is the lead researcher for several milfoil projects funded by the EPA and Michigan Department of Natural Resources that focus more generally on the northern Great Lakes.
He thinks of Eurasian Watermilfoil as a potential disturbance to the native ecosystem—knowing that “controlling it like a weed” is a common management technique. However, aquatic plants and especially native ones can be vital to aquatic ecosystems.
Understanding the physical and ecological needs and impacts of milfoil is important and will help determine the best treatments and predict where invasive milfoil might spread next.