The colonial ascidian Didemnum sp. A: Current distribution, basic biology and potential threat to marine communities of the northeast and west coasts of North America
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Didemnum sp. A is a colonial ascidian with rapidly expanding populations on the east and west coasts of North America. The origin of Didemum sp. A is unknown. Populations were first observed on the northeast coast of the U.S. in the late 1980s and on the west coast during the 1990s. It is currently undergoing a massive population explosion and is now a dominant member of many subtidal communities on both coasts. To determine Didemnum sp. A’s current distribution, we conducted surveys from Maine to Virginia on the east coast and from British Columbia to southern California on the west coast of the U.S. between 1998 and 2005. In nearshore locations Didemnum sp. A currently ranges from Eastport, Maine to Shinnecock Bay, New York on the east coast. On the west coast it has been recorded from Humboldt Bay to Port San Luis in California, several sites in Puget Sound, Washington, including a heavily fouled mussel culture facility, and several sites in southwestern British Columbia on and adjacent to oyster and mussel farms. The species also occurs at deeper subtidal sites (up to 81 m) off New England, including Georges, Stellwagen and Tillies Banks. On Georges Bank numerous sites within a 230 km(2) area are 50-90% covered by Didemnum sp. A; large colonies cement the pebble gravel into nearly solid mats that may smother infaunal organisms. These observations suggest that Didemnum sp. A has the potential to alter marine communities and affect economically important activities such as fishing and aquaculture. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.