Didymosphenia geminata invasion in South America: ecosystem impacts and potential biogeochemical state change in Patagonian rivers.
The diatom Didymosphenia geminata has emerged as a major global concern, as both an aggressive invader of rivers and streams in the southern hemisphere, and for its ability to form nuisance blooms in oligotrophic systems in its native range. South American D. geminata blooms were first documented in Chilean Patagonia in May 2010, and have spread to over five regions and three provinces, in Chile and Argentina respectively. The Patagonian invasion represents a distinct challenge compared to other regions; not only are affected systems poorly characterized, but also a general synthesis of the nature and magnitude of ecosystem impacts is still lacking. The latter is essential in evaluating impacts to ecosystem services, forms the basis for a management response that is proportional to the potentially valid threats, or aids in the determination of whether action is warranted or feasible. Based on a revision of the recent literature, some of the most significant impacts may be mediated through physical changes: substantially increased algal biomass, trapping of fine sediment, altered hydrodynamics, and consequent effects on biogeochemical states and processes such as redox condition, pH and nutrient cycling in the benthic zone. Surveys conducted during the early invasion in Chile show a strong correlation between benthic biomass and associated fine sediments, both of which were one-two orders of magnitude higher within D. geminata blooms. Experimental phosphorous amendments showed significant abiotic uptake, while interstitial water in D. geminata mats had nearly 10-20 fold higher soluble reactive phosphorous and a pronounced pH cycle compared to the water column. A dominant and aggressive stalk-forming diatom with this combination of characteristics is in sharp contrast to the colonial cyanobacteria and bare gravel substrate that characterize many Patagonian streams. The potential displacement of native benthic algal communities with contrasting functional groups, increased primary producer biomass, and fine benthic sediment accumulation, all may have a significant effect on stream nutrient cycling and ecosystem function, in Patagonia and elsewhere where nuisance blooms have been reported.