Asian carp more adaptable than first thought or evolving

Mar 19, 2013

A Purdue researcher says Asian carp are going where experts thought the fish would not. Specifically, Forestry and Natural Resources Assistant Professor Reuben Goforth says the species are showing greater flexibility in the location and conditions under which they can spawn.

He says what’s not known is if they already have the ability to adapt, or if the fish is evolving in U.S. waters.

“In terms of their evolution, it’s certainly not unheard of for a species to be able to undergo in some level of microevolution to become adapted to new environments relatively quickly.”

The Asian carp was first recorded in the United States in the 1970s. The fish is found in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Wabash River.

“The ecological concern is that they can out-compete native fish that are also planktivores,” he says. “By that I mean fish or other organism that specialize on eating very small plants and animals in the water column. That’s what these guys do.”

In addition to the ecological concerns, Goforth says human safety is an issue when it comes to the Asian carps that are known to leap out of water.

“To some extent it’s kind of humorous, but if you think about it from the standpoint of people who are in a motorboat, traveling 30 miles per hour and something with essentially the same mass as a bowling ball jumps out of the water and hits them in the face, the comic side of things doesn’t come into play quite so much anymore.”

Goforth, who studies aquatic ecology, says his team is creating a study to conduct this summer that looks at the question of adaptability versus evolution in Asian carp. He thinks eradication is not likely, and that harvesting the fish is probably the best option for controlling it in the United States.