Types of Epiphytic Algae


Epiphytes are a group of microscopic algae that grow on the surface of marine plants. The growth of these plants is common, but increases by the addition of nitrogen to the body of water. When this situation occurs, it may cause problems with the nutrient cycling and oxygen stores for other organisms that live in the area. Algae types classified as epiphytes include bryozoans, diatoms, cyanobacteria, ectocarpus, cladophora and polysiphonia.


  • Bryozoans are also known as moss animals or aquatic organisms. This type of algae lives in colonies of a group of interconnected organisms. These groups can include just a few organisms or millions, depending on the level of nitrogen in the water and the growth cycle. A group of this type is characterized by a lacy or fanlike shape made of single organisms no larger than 1 millimeter each. Bryozoans can affect the functionality of ships as well as the structural integrity of pilings, piers, docks and water intakes.


  • Diatoms are also known as bacillariophyta. This type of algae has a silica shell called a frustule and is found among plankton and sediment in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Fossilized versions of bacillariophyta are mined and used in commercial abrasives and filters. Diatoms also help increase the oxygen supply in their environment through photosynthesis.


  • Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic algae that can live in water and which manufacture their own food. This type of algae has been found in fossils more than 3.5 billion years old. Cyanobacteria have multiple uses in commercial applications including their role in forming oil deposits and providing nitrogen fertilizer for the cultivation of crops. Cyanobacteria have been credited for their role in the creation of Earth's oxygen atmosphere and the origin of plants.


  • Ectocarpus algae are a hairlike, brown algae found in small pools created at high tides. These algae can often be found attached to other types of algae such as Neptune's Necklace. Ectocarpus is found along the coast of Australia and in other temperate and tropical sea areas.


  • Cladophora is a green algae commonly found in the Great Lakes. It resembles a tree with small filaments that branch out in water with high levels of phosphorous. The existence of cladophora can produce foul smells and affect drinking water quality as well as property values. Mussel shells in water can contribute to the growth cycle of cladophora due to the oxygen byproducts the mussels produce.


  • Polysiphonia is a red algae that includes more than 200 different species. This type of algae is different from others because of its tolerance for extreme living conditions; they can even survive in Antarctica. Polysiphonia closely resemble cladophora's construction and attach themselves to rocky surfaces and other algae. They can be found at depths up to 30 yards and exist only in marine environments.

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