Home > Explore Data & Reports > An integrated assessment of the continued spread and potential impacts of the colonial ascidian, Didemnum sp. A, in U.S. waters


Daley, B.A., and D. Scavia. 2008. An integrated assessment of the continued spread and potential impacts of the colonial ascidian, Didemnum sp. A, in U.S. waters. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 78. Silver Spring, MD. 61 pp.

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Didemnum sp. A is a colonial ascidian or “sea squirt” of unknown geographic origin. Colonies of Didemnum sp. A were first documented in U.S. waters in 1993 at Damariscotta River, Maine and San Francisco Bay, California. An alarming number of colonies have since been found at several locations in New England and along the West Coast of the contiguous continental United States. Originally believed to be restricted to artificial structures in nearshore habitats, such as ports and marinas, colonies of Didemnum sp. A have also been discovered on a gravel-pavement habitat on Georges Bank at depths of 40-65m. The wide distribution of Didemnum sp. A, the presence of colonies on an important offshore fishing ground, and the negative economic impacts that other species of noninidigenous ascidians have had on aquaculture operations have raised concerns about the potential impacts of Didemnum sp. A. We reviewed the available information on the biology and ecology of Didemnum sp. A and potentially closely related species to examine the environmental and socioeconomic factors that may have influenced the introduction, establishment and spread of Didemnum sp. A in U.S. waters, the potential impacts of this colonial ascidian on other organisms, aquaculture, and marine fisheries, and the possibility that it will spread to other U.S. waters. In addition, we present and discuss potential management objectives for minimizing the impacts and spread of Didemnum sp. A. Concern over the potential for Didemnum sp. A to become invasive stems from ecological traits that it shares with other invasive species, including the ability to overgrow benthic organisms, high reproductive and population growth rates, ability to spread by colony fragmentation, tolerance to a wide range of environmental conditions, apparent scarcity of predators, and the ability to survive in human dominated habitats. At relatively small spatial scales, species of Didemnum and other nonindigenous ascidians have been shown to alter the abundance and composition of benthic assemblages. In addition, the Canadian aquaculture industry has reported that heavy infestations of nonindigenous ascidians result in increased handling and processing costs. Offshore fisheries may also suffer where high densities of Didemnum sp. A may alter the access of commercially important fish species to critical spawning grounds, prey items, and refugia. Because colonial ascidian larvae remain viable for only 12–24hrs, the introduction and spread of Didemnum sp. A across large distances is thought to be predominantly human mediated; hull fouling, aquaculture, and ballast water. Recent studies suggest that colony growth rates decline when temperatures exceed 21 ºC for 7 consecutive days. Similarly, water temperatures above 8 to 10 ºC are necessary for colony growth; however, colonies can survive extended periods of time below this temperature threshold as an unidentified overwintering form. A qualitative analysis of monthly mean nearshore water temperatures suggest that new colonies of Didemnum will continue to be found in the Northeast U.S., California Current, and Gulf of Alaska LMEs. In contrast, water temperatures become less favorable for colony establishment in subarctic, subtropical, and tropical areas to the north and south of Didemnum’s current distribution in cool temperate habitats.We recommend that the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force serve as the central management authority to coordinate State and Federal management activities. Five objectives for a Didemnum sp. A management and control program focusing on preventing the spread of Didemnum sp. A to new areas and limiting the impacts of existing populations are discussed. Given the difficulty of eradicating large populations of Didemnum sp. A, developing strategies for limiting the access of Didemnum sp. A to transport vectors and locating newly established colonies are emphasized.

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