I Smell Sex and Death: Manipulating Invasive Sea Lampreys with Odor
This technique, Wagner thinks, will prevent the lampreys from habituating to the smell of death, while still allowing the researchers to manipulate them. “If you go into a wastewater treatment plant, it’s the worst thing you’ve ever smelled for about 15 minutes,” he says, “but eventually you don’t even notice it anymore.” The same thing could happen to lampreys if scientists try to overdose the Lakes with death smells. “Pretty soon they’d just start to ignore it because their reproductive imperative is so strong,” Wagner predicts.
Ecologically, Wagner says there are two upsides of controlling sea lamprey’s paths. The animals can be concentrated into smaller areas, which means using fewer pesticides to kill them. They can also be deterred from entering streams with endangered or valuable species and instead directed to lower quality habitats where they’ll have less of an impact on the environment. And if researchers can combine the new and old techniques—using death smells to steer sea lampreys away from certain areas, and sex smells to lure them in to others—Great Lakes managers can create a push-pull method of rounding up and exterminating the invasive animals. “We can really get into the business of ecosystem management,” Wagner says.
See also: Titanic Trout, Ugly But Beautiful, Paddling Upstream