Dr. Marie-Laure Guillemin, scientist from the IDEAL Center, is conducting research that shows that algae grouped under the same name, actually belong to different species. 

Divers, Mateo Caceres and Diego Bravo, extracted samples of algae near Porvenir, in Tierra del Fuego.

In sub-Antarctic and Antarctic zones, there are algae that were grouped under the same name, but, actually belong to different species. That, is one of the main conclusions of a genetic study that is being carried out by the scientist, Dra. Marie-Laure Guillemin, of the Research Center Dynamics of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems

Dr. Guillemin´s research aim to understand what have been the impacts of the last 40 million years historic events (climatic or tectonic changes for examples) on the algae population in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic areas. Her research has focused mainly on the study of six red algae (Porphyra, Pyropia, Wildemania, Gigartina, Iridaea and Plocamium) and a brown alga (Adenocystis). 

“In the seven genera of algae studied, we have found new species. In the last few years, genetics has revealed a great diversity hidden in algae and this study shows that in Chile and in the Antarctic Peninsula, we do not know the real level of diversity present in the area”, explains Dr. Guillemin.  

Additionally, the researcher intends to determine, for how long has the algae in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic zone been separated. One of the hypothesis, that the project is willing to test is that the glacial events have caused huge impact on algae populations in both study areas, the last glacial event having finalized only approximately 18 thousand years ago. 

Iridaea and Adenocystis were two of the genera of algae analyzed in the genetic study by Dr.Guillemin

Through genetic tools, which helped to reconstruct a vision of the past the investigation is willing to search for the existence of cryptic species while comparing algae samples obtained in the region of Magallanes and in the Antarctic Peninsula. Cryptic species are extremely similar in appearance, however they are reproductively isolated and can present important biological or ecological differences.

The study was recently funded by the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) and is the continuation of an investigation that began in 2013 and was carried out by the UACh in conjunction with the UMAG.

“This shows that the diversity of algae populating the regions of Magallanes and Antarctica is much greater than what we previously thought.  Therefore, our vision of the distribution and level of endemism needs to be reviewed. Inquiring into the ecology of these species will allow us to understand how environmental changes have affected the se organisms throughout history”, she concludes.