The Erie Canal revolutionized transportation and commerce by giving farmers and merchants a cheaper, easier way to move goods across the state.
The present-day canal is primarily a recreational waterway, though it might also be taking on a new, undesirable role as a pathway for the spread of aquatic invasive species between some state waters, including the Great Lakes.
That's why Nature Conservancy researchers are on the canal this summer, collecting water samples. The samples, which will be location-tagged, will be tested to see if they contain DNA markers that match up with known genetic sequences from some key invasives, such as Asian carp, northern snakehead, killer shrimp, Asian clam, and hydrilla.
"We look for aquatic invasive species in the canal because the canal has so much connectivity," says Rob Williams, a conservation practitioner with the Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York. "It connects the Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes, the Finger Lakes to Oneida Lake, Oneida Lake to the Champlain Canal to the Hudson River. So it's a potentially big pathway."
The crew traveled through Rochester last week. The samples they collected will be processed by a SUNY Brockport lab before heading to Central Michigan University for analysis.
The environmental DNA testing is very sensitive and allows researchers to detect even trace amounts of genetic material, says Andrew Tucker, aquatic invasive species applied ecologist with the Nature Conservancy's Great Lakes Project.
The goal of the testing is to identify potential threats before the species establish themselves so that the threat can be contained or eradicated, Tucker says.