Algae Corner: "What Is It?" - The Botulism Bird Killer, Cladophora

Welcome to this very important episode of Algae Corner on the botulism bird killer: Cladophora. Cladophora is a branched, cottony, filamentous green alga that can form dense mats. It's usually a little brighter green than Pithophora and has unique looking branching that you can see in these photos.

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Invasive in Many Systems

In many systems like the Great Lakes, this has taken off as invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels have filtered the phytoplankton out of the water column. They excrete those nutrients on the benthic mats. That clears up the water column so you get more light penetration, and it creates the perfect storm. These Cladophora mats just take off.

Botulism & Birds

What about Cladophora and botulism bird deaths? Basically, these Cladophora mats can house the bacterium named Clostridium botulinum and actually create an environment that is more anaerobic. It provides more organic matter that they can use to thrive. And perhaps under that mat itself, they cause these spores to come out. That bacterium thrives in these Cladophora mats and produces something called type E botulism, which impacts waterfowl, fish, amphibians, and even some types of mammals. Type C botulism is less common, but it can also be produced in certain locations.

Unfortunately, it can kill many different types of birds, especially loons, mergansers, cormorants, and gulls. They eat the fish that have accumulated this toxin and sadly, they often drown to death because they're unable to hold themselves upright in the water column due to paralysis from the toxin itself.

Keep an Eye Out & Be Proactive

Keep an eye out for these thick Cladophora mats. I would highly suggest getting out there and getting aggressive with management to protect wildlife and even human health. We have developed some very neat solutions, both proactive and reactive, for Cladophora.

Get ahold of us if we can help you clean it up, and thank you for tuning into this very important episode on the botulism bird killer: Cladophora.