Shedding new light on old algae

The existence of massive cryptic diversity in algae makes linking DNA-based lineages to existing taxa exceedingly difficult. A better integration of historical collections into modern taxonomic research is therefore highly desirable. Using the brown algal genus Lobophora as a test case, we explore the feasibility of linking taxonomic names to clades in modern phylogenies.

vieira_2016
Phylogeny of Lobophora with holotypes indicated in red and epitypes and a neotype in green

Despite Lobophora being a pantropical genus with probably more than 100 species, traditionally only a handful of species have been recognized. In this study we reevaluated the identity of 17 historical taxa thought to belong to Lobophora by attempting DNA amplification of herbarium material as well as specimens recently collected from the type localities (epitypes). In an attempt to assign them to Molecular Operational Taxonomic Units, the obtained sequences were integrated in a global Lobophora phylogeny based upon data derived from more than 650 specimens. Our results indicate that although five sequences were obtained from type specimens, exclusive reliance on information preserved in type specimens is problematic. Epitype material proved a more successful way forward, but this route often comes with a considerable degree of uncertainty, especially in tropical regions where the extent of sympatry among Lobophora lineages is often considerable. More problematic from a broader perspective is the fact that for 35% of historical taxa, either the type could not be traced or permission was not granted to extract DNA from the types. Such a low accessibility rate may reduce our reliance on type material and jeopardize future efforts to integrate historical taxa into a framework of a modern DNA-based taxonomy.

Vieira C, Camacho O, Wynne MJ, Mattio L, Anderson RJ, Bolton JJ, Sansón M, D’Hondt S, Leliaert F, Fredericq S, Payri C, De Clerck O. 2016. Shedding new light on old algae: Matching names and sequences in the brown algal genus Lobophora (Dictyotales, Phaeophyceae). Taxon 65:689-707.

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