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Wednesday, 25 October 2017 04:50

Canada and the U.S. team up for Didymo Distribution Project

Written by  Demi Knight
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Canada and the U.S. team up for Didymo Distribution Project Photo contributed

 Trout Unlimited Canada and USA have formed a partnership to create a project that better studies the microscopic alga that is Didymo.


The Discovering Didymo Distribution project, has launched once again this year and is asking volunteers from across the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, all the way to North Carolina and the southern Appalachians to get involved with this citizen science initiative.
Project Biologist with Trout Unlimited Canada, Elliot Lindsay says that this project was brought about not to acknowledge an issue, but rather to gather more information on the alga and where exactly it is being seen most.
“There’s no solution or extermination that we’re looking for, it’s really just a citizen science initiative to gather as much information as we can on where it is and where the blooms are forming.”
Lindsay added this project is great because there’s much to learn about this alga species and scientists have been studying its origins for quite some time now, so this initiative could help elevate the knowledge process. 
“It’s something that has been quite hotly debated on whether it was native or not to these lands. We know that it can be spread by people quite easily, and the more we look for it the more we find it, so as of late there’s been some evidence that maybe it is a native species.”
As the summer months came into full effect, with the sun beating down, enlarged matts of the species were being found more and more frequently within bodies of water across the eastern slopes of Alberta.
Lindsay says that since the didymo seems to thrive within cooler temperatures and less nutrient infused waters, those lakes, rivers and creeks that run off the Rocky Mountains are where the species is being found most.
Although the didymo is harmless and non-toxic towards humans, Lindsay adds there’s a chance with the spread of the alga it could alter aquatic food webs within the water itself.
“It could definitely change dynamics within water so its something to be aware of, we’re not sure how didymo is responding to changes in the environment caused by humans, so this project is more about capturing snapshots of time right now in Alberta to see where it is and how it’s populating.”
The project is set out to work in such a way that volunteers offer their time and are sent sampling kits and training on how to collect and preserve their samples while recording their observations.  Participants are asked to use a free online citizen science application called EpiCollect5 to record their potential didymo observations. Volunteers through this project are encouraged to visit their favourite rivers or small creeks and scrape suspected alga from rocks and store them within the tubes provided in the sampling kits.
All these observations either recorded online with EpiCollect5 or through tubes are then sent to the University of Calgary for analysis before overall results and findings of the project become available online through the Trout Unlimited Canada website.
Although the Discovering Didymo initiative took place last year, it re-started in 2017 and this time around has garnered the interest of many across the province.
With several watershed protection and advisory councils throughout the province getting involved in the project, the initiative has reached new areas this year that they hadn’t seen before.
“Olds College have also taken over 100 kits which is huge for us. They are going to be incorporating them into some of their environmental science courses. So, students will be going out and collecting samples from all around Alberta as part of their education credits so that will definitely be interesting to see the results we garner from that too,” added Lindsay of the reach the project has found this year around.
Although the project is continuing for a while to come, members of Trout Unlimited Canada have offered to the public several steps that can be taken to stop the spreading of this alga into large masses across rivers. These steps include spraying down waders with a solution of tap water and 2% bleach after fishing within the water, or by placing wet waders in the freezer overnight to kill any remaining didymo that lingers to the fabric.
Everyone is urged to come together and be a part of the project by getting out and sampling their favourite water spots within their community, anyone interested in retrieving a sampling kit or getting more information on the Discovering Didymo Distribution project can visit the website https://tucanada.org/discovering-didymo-distribution/

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