First Pacific record of the north Atlantic ascidian Molgula citrina - Bioinvasion or circumpolar distribution?

Gretchen Lambert*, Noa Shenkar, Billie J. Swalla

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The small brooding ascidian Molgula citrina Alder and Hancock, 1848 has long been known as a common inhabitant of shallow waters on both sides of the north Atlantic on subtidal natural hard substrates and also as a fouler of floating docks. There are published records from the White Sea (NW Russia), but none from the north Pacific. In May and August 2008, a number of adult brooding Molgula sp. specimens were collected from floating docks at the small fishing village of Seldovia on the Kenai Peninsula at Kachemak Bay, Alaska. Morphologically these individuals exactly match Atlantic specimens of Molgula citrina in all characters that were examined. The unique constellation of characters for this species differentiates it from all other Molgula species, as noted by Van Name (1945). In addition, the full-length 18S and 28S rDNA sequences are identical for both the Alaska specimens and New England M. citrina. Is this a new invasion, or is M. citrina a northern circumpolar species that was somehow overlooked? If this new record indicates a natural distribution, why has it not been collected before? If it is a recent introduction, it is unlikely that M. citrina, an inhabitant of cold waters, could survive in sea chests of ships from the N. Atlantic arriving in Alaska via the Panama Canal, but the intriguing idea exists of transport from Atlantic to Pacific through the Northwest or Northeast Passages. As global warming diminishes the ice cover in this region, more and more ships are traversing the Northwest Passage across northern Canada as well as the NE Passage across northern Russia, representing significant new routes for anthropogenic transport of marine species. The tadpoles of this small brooder are retained for some time after hatching, resulting in an extremely short free larval life, but could survive as metamorphosed juveniles attached in sea chests or free-floating in ballast water. They have a wide temperature tolerance and once they metamorphose can live free-floating in sea water for some time. They become very sticky and will ultimately stick to whatever they contact. Thus they could conceivably live for many generations in sea chests and sustain a viable population from which to invade new habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-378
Number of pages10
JournalAquatic Invasions
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • 18S rDNA
  • 28S rDNA
  • Alaska
  • Ascidian
  • COI
  • Fouling
  • Invasions
  • Marina
  • Molgula citrina
  • Nonindigenous
  • Tunicate


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