The impact of Alaska's first invasive freshwater plant

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Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), preserved specimen from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Biodiversity in Alaska is threatened not only by changing climate, but also anthropogenic disturbances through increased resource extraction and infrastructure development. Together, these factors increase the state’s vulnerability to biological invasions. In this interdisciplinary paper, researchers studied waterweeds (Elodea spp.), the first documented invasive freshwater plant in Alaska and assessed the potential threat posed by the invader to the subsistence of Alaskan Native communities by examining effect on harvest of important species, Chinook salmon and whitefish. Using GBIF-mediated occurrences, the researchers constructed suitable habitat models for Elodea in Alaska and find high suitability across most of the state. In future climates, the models show a slight increase in suitable habitat. Combining this data with known spawning and rearing sites for salmon and whitefish, the study identifies the nearly 1 million square kilometre Athabascan cultural domain of interior Alaska as having the highest concern, both under current and future scenarios.