An international team of researchers led by the University of Girona (UoG) has described a new species of red algae (Leptofauchea coralligena) in the western Mediterranean. This is the only species of the Leptofauchea genus currently known to be in the Mediterranean.
"The species that we have described, Leptofauchea coralligena, is a deep water red alga which can often be found in the western Mediterranean between the end of winter and autumn. It is of great ecological importance, given that it is a species characteristic of the coral lining situated between 30 and 45 metres below the surface", explains Conxi Rodríguez-Prieto, main author of the study and director of the UoG's Marine Benthic Algae team.
The study of the red algae is mainly based on the morphology of the female reproductive structure and on the post-fertilisation stages. Rodríguez-Prieto affirms that "many macroalgae species were described based on sterile specimens, leading to many being classified in the wrong taxonomic groups (order, family, genus, species, and even class)".
This is what happened with Leptofauchea coralligena, which, "despite being a very common species, until now was thought to belong to the Rhodymenia genus, and specifically to the Rhodymenia ardissonei species", clarifies the researcher.
However, "the authentic Rhodymenia ardissonei is a common but sparse species which lives close to the surface and reproduces in a different manner (which is why it belongs even to a different family)", points out the scientist. The description of Leptofauchea coralligena, a new species for science, was possible thanks to the fact that researchers found fertile specimens and could study their reproduction.
The study, recently published in the European Journal of Phycology, included the collaboration of Olivier De Clerck, a researcher from the University of Ghent (Belgium) and phycologist who is "very well-known internationally and someone with whom we have collaborated for years", adds Rodríguez-Prieto. DNA sequencing was used to confirm that the new species belongs to the Leptofauchea genus.
Getting to know marine biodiversity
The Mediterranean has a great diversity of algae, but they are little known due to being so difficult to collect; they grow all the way from the surface down to 110 metres in depth. According to Rodríguez-Prieto, "the study of marine macroalgae is notably delayed in comparison to that of land plants", because individual diving did not begin until the mid 20th century.
The scientific community considers the "conservation of biodiversity" fundamental , and it is therefore necessary to know which species currently exist and what their physiological requirements are.
The UoG team, specialised in the reproduction, ecophysiology and ecology of red algae, especially those in deep water, is currently carrying out diverse studies on the effects of climate change. The scientists hope to "determine if the warming of the Mediterranean may affect the development and growth of various macroalgae species, among them the Leptofauchea coralligena", says Rodríguez-Prieto.
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