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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

UMESC Science Programs

Aquatic Ecosystem Health (AEH)


The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) was founded in 1959 as an Aquatic Ecosystem Health (AEH) facility, dedicated to the development of chemical agents for the control of common carp. The AEH program tested and screened thousands of pesticides for possible use in Federal and State fishery management projects. The AEH program was responsible for developing guidelines for testing pesticide toxicity, effectiveness, and safety (for fish, the environment, and humans). Within a few years this work was expanded to include therapeutic and anesthetic drugs, and disinfectants.

In 1968, the AEH program's mission was expanded to include chemical and biological research for controlling sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. The AEH program supplied technical assistance and research to support the binational (U.S. and Canada) Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s highly successful Sea Lamprey Control Program. By controlling population levels of sea lamprey, the restoration of the Great Lakes' commercial and sport fisheries was possible.

Fisheries Restoration

Natural resource agencies depend on a variety of fishery management chemicals and drugs to ensure the health of their fishery resources. Currently, state and federal management agencies depend on the availability of safe and effictive chemicals to ensure the health and fitness of fish cultured for public use. Native fish are released into the wild to help restore populations of declining and endangered species, or for put-and-take recreational fishing programs. These fish must be healthy before thay are allowed to be released as part of these restoration programs. Before any chemical can be used as a management or rearing tool, it must be registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (management chemicals) or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (aquaculture chemicals). Since 1964, the UGSG-Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center's (UMESC) Aquatic Ecosystem Health (AEH) program has been the leader in the development and submission of data to those regulatory agencies supporting registrations or approvals of management and aquaculture chemicals.

Aquatic Invasive Species Control

Human activities like moving people and things from place to place and cultivating plants and animals can result in the accidental or purposeful introduction of species outside their native range. Many of these nonnative organisms cause no harm in the invaded ecosystem, however some cause undesirable changes in the invaded ecosystem, spread widely, become overly abundant, or reduce native organisms. Considered "biological pollutants," invasive species are a major cause of biological diversity loss throughout the world.

The Aquatic Ecosystem Health program, at the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, conducts research that increases our understanding of these species. Their research is aimed at predicting the potential effects of invasives, understanding their life history and biology, finding possible tools for controlling invasives, and developing strategies for reestablishing native plant and animal communities

Aquatic Toxicology

Human and veterinary contaminants, including Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCP, e.g., prescription drugs, antimicrobial agents, fragrances, sex hormones) are emerging contaminants of concern because of their widespread environmental presence. These contaminants commonly enter aquatic environments through the discharge of human waste water treatment plants, and often pass through the system unaltered by the waste water treatment process (i.e., what you flush down your toilet or sink could find its way into a river or stream). Historically, researchers have studied pharmaceutical contaminants to determine at what concentration they become lethal, or when noticeable side effects will occur. UMESC scientists are studying these compounds to determine the effects of long term/low dose chronic exposure. Knowing that some pharmaceuticals are designed to affect humans and domesticated animals at extremely low doses, the PPCP team is using concentration levels normally detected in aquatic environments to see how they affect vertebrate and invertebrate organisms (e.g., native mussels and zooplankton) who live with these compounds long term, over multiple generations.

Unique Research Capabilities

The generation of data for submission to regulatory agencies is broadly controlled by provisions of the Good Laboratory Practices Act. Because of our long history and extensive knowledge and experience developing data to support the use of chemicals by public natural resource agencies, UMESC is uniquely qualified to accomplish this work. Capabilities unique to the UMESC include:

  • State-of-the-art wet lab facilities that allow researchers to implement nearly any study design.
  • Water tanks that allow researchers to tailor the chemical composition of water to replicate virtually any water chemistry in the world.
  • An aquatic isolation and research complex for studying invasive species and diseases.
  • Analytical equipment capable of detecting fishery chemicals in a variety of matrices including water, tissues, and sediment.
  • Environmental chambers that allow researchers to conduct a variety of stringently controlled acute and chronic studies with nearly any aquatic organism.
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing allowing researchers to conduct chemical fate and metabolism studies with radioactive chemicals.
  • A full time animal culturist and expansive aquaculture facility specifically geared for rearing a wide range of fish species and aquatic invertebrates.
  • A quality assurance officer to provide oversight to studies conducted according to Good Laboratory Practices.
  • A cadre of biologists and chemists uniquely trained to utilize the facility to develop data supporting chemical registrations and approvals.

Research Projects

Each research area (i.e., science team) maintains a Web page that contains links to background information on individual science projects and the individuals working on the projects.

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Page Last Modified: January 29, 2016