Algae Corner: Where Do Algae Come From?

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Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to the Algae Corner with me, Dr. West Bishop! In today's episode, we're going to talk about the various ways you can get algae in your system. More specifically, we’ll look at why and how algae can appear in your pond.

As we've already discussed, algae is almost everywhere. It grows everywhere, and there has likely been algae in your pond shortly after it was formed. However, usually we can see different factors that promote its presence and dominance.


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Unique Modes of Transportation

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Algae get around in unique and very different ways. For example, humans move algae around quite a bit (whether they know it or not). Certain types of algae move around as a result of all sorts of human activities. For example, boats, jetskis, and snorkeling equipment can all have small algae on them. Algae spores or algal cells can dry on them and move from water body to water body. Fishing equipment like waders, fishing poles, and lures can move algae from one water body to the next.

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But it's not just humans. Many animals can have a play in moving algae around. Animals can transport algae directly or indirectly to different bodies of water. Turtles, for example, can play host to algae that grow on their shell. Fish can eat and excrete algae in different areas of a pond. There's algae that grow attached to different animals, like muskrats, beavers, and alligators.

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However, of the worst culprits is waterfowl, like geese. Algae can stick on their feathers, fur, and feet. To make matters worse, algae can actually pass through the guts of waterfowl. Some algae are designed to be tougher, to have protective defenses against the intestinal systems of waterfowl. As a result, these algae can pass right through and get excreted out into new bodies of water where those waterfowl are flying and landing. There have been documented cases of algae moving thousands of miles with migration of some of these waterfowl in particular.

Algae can also get around without the help of animals or humans. Many algae have spores or cells that can arise into the atmosphere, into the air around us. One group of scientists went up 500 feet into the air and collected a sample, put some water and nutrients in it, and that sample started to grow many types of algae. Just through the wind, with algal cells moving in the air, many types of algae can migrate. Those can settle in different bodies of water and grow. For example, you've probably seen algae growing in your swimming pool or birdbath, or even just a cup of water that was left outside for too long. These likely originated from the atmosphere, from the air, and dropped down into that water and started growing.

Seasonal Growth Patterns

As with most everything, there's a seasonality to algae. Different times of year, you may have different algal types. Just because you recently started to see one type of algae doesn't mean it wasn't there before. It didn’t necessarily just arrive in your water body. Changing conditions may have allowed it to become problematic, or grow to densities that made it visible or reach nuisance levels.

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Water quality, for example, is one of these key factors. Nutrient levels can contribute to this growth, whether you had fertilizer runoff or other changes in the nutrients these algae need to grow. As a result, a type of algae you might not have seen before can start to grow, producing nuisance levels, with higher density in biomass. Temperature contributes to seasonality in algae growth. Some algae like cool springtime conditions, while others like warm conditions later in the season. As a result of all of this, different algae may dominate at different times of year.

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Preventing Unwanted Growth

How do you prevent algal growth in your water? The short answer is, there's no 100% effective way to do that. It's very difficult to prevent birds from coming in or keep spores or cells from dropping down into your system. But there are some proactive things you can do to try to keep algae from getting into your water body. For example, if you fish frequently, don't dump your bait buckets in the water. Wash your boat before you take it from one water body to another. Wash off your waders. Try to keep geese, swans, and ducks out of your water body as they can carry a lot of algae.

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When it comes to preventing algae growth from getting out of hand, or growing some of the nuisance, noxious types of algae (which we'll talk about in the future), nutrients are very important. Anything you can do to use less fertilizer will help with this. Try to decrease leaves and grass clippings from entering your pond. When you decrease that nutrient pool in your system, it can certainly limit the growth of some of these algae.

Some algae are good for your pond. Some can produce oxygen, and others can move up the food chain to help grow big bass. But the thick mat-formers and scum-formers, and even beneficial algae in increased densities, can cause dissolved oxygen issues. Keep an eye on the types of algae you have and how dense they're getting, as many types aren't good for a system. They don't move up the food chain, and actually can be potential toxin-producers that pose risks to humans, pets, livestock, and the fish and invertebrates in your system.

Summary

In today's episode, we summarized the causes and sources for many types of algae, and where they come from. We also covered how they get around, and briefly summarized some of those factors that may cause them to get out of hand. Thank you for your time today, and thanks for checking out this episode of the Algae Corner!