FAQs related to Didymo Stakeholder Update – September 2009
Freshwater environments suitable for the establishment of didymo include cool water, stable riverbed and waterflows, high light availability, moderate flow velocity, and pH neutral or slightly alkaline.
It is very difficult to measure the abundance of didymo throughout New Zealand as it can be present in its microscopic form or as a large population in bloom.
Freshwater pests such as didymo can be spread by a range of human activities (e.g. angling, kayaking and tramping through waterways). ‘Check, Clean, Dry’ is the title of the decontamination method which, when carried out ensures gear that is being moved between waterways is free of didymo. This decontamination method prevents further spread of didymo to waterways where it may not be present. For more detail on the Check, Clean, Dry cleaning procedures, refer to these cleaning instructions.
Changing freshwater hygiene behaviour so that the spread of current and potential freshwater pests can be restricted is managed by actively promoting and raising awareness of the Check, Clean, Dry procedure.
The Check, Clean, Dry campaign and the Freshwater Pest Partnership Programme are led by the Ministry of Primary Industries. The campaign focuses on providing Check, Clean, Dry information to waterway users. A number of key stakeholder and partners work together on the Partnership Programme.
Since didymo was first detected in Southland waterways in later 2004, it has spread to over 150 waterways within the South Island. It does have the potential to spread to other waterways although it is difficult to know how didymo will act in the future.
Yes. Didymo will likely continue to spread to unaffected areas within New Zealand. Research on the environmental variables which control didymo's growth (water depth and flow rate, nutrients, light, invertebrate grazing, etc.) has helped identify which habitats and locations it is most likely to establish. Further research has shown that didymo has the ability to grow in conditions that emulate the water chemistry of rivers from throughout New Zealand, both the North and South Islands. Ongoing passive and active surveillance will help determine rate and range of spread.
Didymo is a member of the group of single-celled aquatic plants (freshwater algae) known as diatoms. Although it is microscopic, didymo can form dense colonies called algal blooms which can be seen with the naked eye. Diatoms are unique in that their cell walls contain silica (a major element in sand), which is why didymo feels gritty when touched. Didymo also contains chlorophyll, a pigment which enables it to make its own food by using energy from the sun. Under optimum growing conditions, didymo cells ooze large amounts of a mucus-like substance (mucilage) which attaches didymo firmly to underwater surfaces. Young colonies look like raised pimples on the surfaces of river rocks, but as the mucilage elongates to form stalks, the colonies form impenetrable mats which form thick strands and can cover all surfaces, including other plants, logs and debris.
Didymo's native distribution is limited to cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including the rivers of northern forests and alpine regions of Europe, Asia and parts of North America. Prior to its arrival in New Zealand didymo was not found in the Southern Hemisphere. Over the past twenty years, the distribution of didymo appears to be gradually expanding outside its native range and it is now also found in South America (Chile). Furthermore, even within its native range, there have been reports of excessive growths in areas where it previously existed only in low concentrations.
Yes. In New Zealand, didymo exhibits several characteristics of an invasive species. In a relatively short period of time, it has grown prolifically as evidenced by the significant increase in biomass throughout the Mararoa and lower Waiau Rivers since October 2004 when it was first reported.
Didymo is an exotic organism to New Zealand, which means it is non-native and was introduced from another geographic region. Exotic species are not necessarily harmful. In fact New Zealand has many exotic valued species such as apples, maize, and sheep. However, when a non-native species occupies lands or waters, particularly in natural communities, it can often cause negative ecological or economic effects because the insects, diseases, or other grazers/predators that help control it in its native range may not be present in the new location.
A number of environmental factors influence how long it will take for didymo to bloom after introduction to a waterway, or whether it will bloom at all, but the process is not well understood. It seems to vary according to river conditions, in some rivers it is visible fairly quickly and in others it is only visible under a microscope.
Didymo populations grow mainly by asexual cell division. Sexual reproduction is likely, but not yet observed in didymo. The presence of a dormant or resting stage has never been reported. Little is known about which factors trigger asexual versus sexual cell division. Nor is it known what role the mucilaginous stalks have on the lifecycle of didymo especially compared to the more common diatoms which do not produce such extreme amounts of mucilage. It is likely the mucilage protects individual didymo cells from short term dehydration and therefore could aid in dispersal. Free-floating cells of other species of freshwater diatoms have been found to survive only a few hours when completely out of water, but if kept moist, they can survive longer.
Yes. Although didymo prefers a river environment with clear water flowing over stable substrate at depths sufficient for light penetration to drive photosynthesis, blooms have been found in South Island Lakes. Lake Wakatipu, for example, contains visible didymo on some parts of the lake shore.
We will most likely never be able to determine exactly how didymo first entered the river system. The most plausible method of introduction was the unintentional transport of microscopic didymo on recreational or industrial equipment from affected areas overseas. DNA evidence suggested didymo was introduced from North America on fishing equipment.
Scientists are not certain when didymo first arrived in New Zealand. The first visible blooms were identified in the lower Waiau and Mararoa catchments in October 2004. However, credible retrospective reports indicate didymo was visible in the Mararoa River as early as 2001.
A didymo Likely Environments Model by NIWA in 2005 showed that most of the highly suitable New Zealand rivers for the establishment of didymo are in the South Island. However, parts of the North Island are also suitable for didymo establishment and growth, particularly in the mountain regions and the central plateau. In 2007 NIWA updated the 2005 model with the Didymo Predictive Maps, which predicts the percentage cover and mat thickness of didymo in all New Zealand river reaches. There is no evidence yet of any spread to the North Island, but further research has shown that didymo has the ability to grow in conditions that emulate the water chemistry of rivers from throughout New Zealand, both the North and South Islands. More information about NIWA’s reports and maps can be found in the Pests and Diseases section of this website.
Didymo has been detected in South Island waterways. To date, it has yet to be detected in North Island waterways. For information on where didymo can be found in the pests and diseases section of this website.
Didymosphenia, derived from the Latin 'didymos', means double. Likewise, geminata, derived from the Latin word 'geminus', means twin born, paired or double. Both of these words refer to the bilateral microscopic shape of the organism which looks like a curved bottle with paired bulbous ends. This is due to the pairing of two halves of the silicified cell wall which fit together like a Petri dish, with one half slightly smaller than the other.
The Ministry for Primary Industries is the lead agency and coordinates resources for stakeholder agencies on the ground. This has included communications, enforcement of controlled areas, and water sampling. In 2007 the Didymo Long Term Management Programme began, with the transition from the response phase to the management phase. This programme involves a number of our key partners working together regionally and nationally. The objectives of the Long Term Management Programme are:
- to slow the spread of didymo and other freshwater pests throughout New Zealand;
- protect valued sites and at risk species;
- mitigate impacts of didymo on affected sectors; and
- maintain the North Island free of didymo for as long as possible
As the programme has progressed the focus has expanded to include stopping the spread of other freshwater pests, and is now known as the Freshwater Pest Partnership Programme.
Long-term management programme (135 KB)
No, there are no plans to eradicate. Past experience with invasive species indicates that eradication of didymo is unlikely. No country has ever attempted to control or eradicate didymo. In New Zealand, a range of management options have been investigated including control, reducing the spread, minimising impacts and protecting high value sites. We are mindful that any control action must not create more environmental problems than it might solve. Advocating Check, Clean, Dry cleaning procedures to waterway users is used to prevent the further spread and establishment of didymo and other freshwater pests.
No. Eradicating any microscopic organism from a natural environment is virtually impossible, especially in an aquatic environment. We know of no systematic attempts to eradicate invasive blooms of didymo. This is likely because of its widespread distribution and because in a number of countries it is considered a native species.
While we work to understand more about the physical, chemical and biological factors which control didymo, our efforts will continue to be focused on reducing the spread from known affected river systems.
When didymo was first detected in New Zealand, there was very little information on didymo internationally - its biology, ecology, impacts, surveillance or control techniques. The available information upon which to base incursion response decisions was primarily anecdotal due to the absence of validated scientific studies. The recent work in New Zealand led by the Ministry for Primary Industries has made us the world authority on this organism.
Didymo is not considered a significant human health risk.
Freshwater fish such as trout, salmon, native galaxiids (eg. whitebait) and bullies are most likely to be affected. Recent science results have suggested the impacts to native fish will be smaller than first thought. Science has shown that didymo doesn’t impact as negatively as first predicted on invertebrates, and this could be good news for fish stocks.
Initially there were very limited scientific studies on the effects of didymo overseas in areas where algal blooms had been reported. However, anecdotal reports from overseas indicated negative effects on fish and invertebrate habitat, and that didymo behaves as an invasive species. Similar effects are probable here, although recent science results have shown that the numbers of invertebrates increases but the size of the invertebrates decrease. There seems to be minimal effects on fish in didymo infected rivers. Short term impacts have not been as severe as expected and we are still learning more about the possible long-term impacts didymo may or may not have. When in bloom, didymo is aesthetically unappealing and can cause potential problems for waterway users such as anglers and jet boaters. Research on the impacts didymo have on the freshwater environment and species is ongoing and is conducted by the Ministry for Primary Industries and partner organisations
Surveillance for didymo is ongoing and has been an important part of the response since day one. Formal surveys were first conducted in Southland and Otago regions in December 2004. This was supported by a nationwide call for all organisations regularly working or conducting research in other New Zealand rivers to keep an active look-out for signs of didymo. Since the transition from response to long term management in 2007 the responsibility for ongoing sampling and monitoring work has moved to organisations with regional responsibilities. They select the most important places for sampling in their area and decide how often to sample. Regional groups can store their sample results in the national didymo samples database .
It is the responsibility of organisations holding events to ensure good river hygiene and to bear the costs associated with any decontamination actions.
However, the Ministry for Primary Industries can provide advice, information and material on the practical steps for groups wishing to hold waterway based event to minimise the spread of didymo.
Approved decontamination methods are available on the website - including advice on how to apply these methods to specific items that are likely to come into contact with water from rivers and lakes (e.g. fishing gear, jet boats, kayakers, people, animals, vehicles etc). Fact sheets also contain the approved cleaning methods which are available from numerous locations.
Low risk doesn't mean no risk. Low risk areas may not have big blooms but if people don't clean they risk spreading didymo to other waterways. Rivers that are suitable for recreational activities such as fishing and kayaking, also tend to be those that are suitable for establishment of didymo. In its microscopic form it is hard to detect so we need everyone to treat all waterways as if they are affected.
No it's about protecting all of our waterways. To date didymo has not been detected in the North Island; however people still need to Check, Clean, Dry to ensure rivers do not become affected.
Scientists believe that humans are the biggest risk of spreading didymo. There is no correlation between bird nesting areas or colonies with didymo finds. There is however a strong correlation between recreational river use and didymo infestations.