Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Invasive seaweed arrived in Canada

In a post last year in October I had reported about invasive seaweeds and among other examples talked about an invasion at the beaches in Massachusetts that happened in June 2012. A large area was blanketed with thickly packed red fibers resembling matted hair, causing a stink for beachfront residents and tourists alike. The Pacific native Heterosiphonia japonica was likely introduced through ship ballast water. It was first discovered at US coasts back in 2009 but had already caused a lot of damage on European Coasts in the early 1980's.

At the time findings were restricted to the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But now the student Amanda Savoie (her first paper - congratulations!) and her supervisor Gary Saunders from the University of New Brunswick reported that in August 2012 they collected four specimens of the invasive red alga at Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada. This was actually a chance find confirmed by DNA Barcoding. I had a brief email exchange with Gary Saunders and he stated "we actually overlooked this species in the field - too busy with two dives a day, processing samples, etc. Plus, we simply weren't expecting it this far north already. The barcode results were a slap in the face that we quickly confirmed by accessing the vouchers!".

It was also a very lucky find as this group of algae experts in Fredericton has almost no money to do the barcode sequencing let alone finance the trip to Nova Scotia. They squeezed the last bit out of their grant money to confirm these important findings. What concerns me most is the fact that necessary surveys with the purpose to investigate the extend of the invasion at the Canadian Atlantic coast will not happen because no money was allocated to the researchers that are actually capable of doing the job. It's a shame because such an investment would be minimal compared to the costs a further spread of Heterosiphonia japonica could cause as it poses a serious threat to the health of this coastal ecosystem. It has the potential to grow over native seaweed, starving it of light and nutrients and thereby damaging a habitat and food source for many marine animals.

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