Taxonomic research allowed us to differentiate and name two groups present on the coasts of our country. Although at first glance they look the same, they maintain genetic and geographical differences.

Durvillaea incurvata. © Erasmo Macaya.

Daniela Jofré, IDEAL Center. Durvillaea antarctica was the scientific name to define the “cochayuyo” that existed on the coasts of our country. From Coquimbo to Cabo de Hornos, this brown seaweed -which can reach 15 meters in length- is mainly extracted between the Biobío Region and the Los Lagos Region, being part of the Chilean popular gastronomy.

However, scientists from different countries managed to carry out a complete taxonomic study, verifying the geographical and genetic differences of this species along the Chilean coasts, thus finding two types of “cochayuyo” and not one, as was believed by the scientific community until now.

“We managed to define geographically a first genetic group of Durvillaea, which is distributed from the coasts of Coquimbo to Betecoi Island in the Guaitecas, which differs from the existing species from the Aysén Region to Cape Horn,” explains Dr. Erasmo Macaya Horta, phycologist at the Center for Dynamic Research of High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh), academic at the University of Concepción (UdeC) and co-author of the study.

The situation is similar to what happened a few years ago with the “black huiro”, where molecular studies showed the presence of two different genetic groups on the coasts of Chile (Lessonia berteroana and Lessonia spicata). In the case of Durvillaea, there were already investigations that indicated genetic differences, so in this new study taxonomic research was carried out to describe the new species.

This new “cochayuyo” would be an endemic species in Chile, since D. antarctica is also found in the sub Antarctic zone and New Zealand. © Erasmo Macaya.

The work that reported the first record of this cochayuyo in the coasts of central Chile was carried out in 1839. In addition, access to the original material was obtained from a herbarium in Kiel (Germany,) which was called Halymenia incurvata at that time, by the scientist Johannes Nicolaus von Suhr. Finally, this new species was named Durvillaea incurvata (Suhr.)

“Morphologically and at first glance, it has no differences with its D. antarctica pair, but they do maintain genetic and geographic discrepancies,” says Dr. Macaya. To verify this information, the morphology and genetics of samples obtained from the Biobío Region were also analyzed. This material was sent to the Museum of Natural History in Santiago and some copies were kept in the Algalab Laboratory of the UdeC.

This new “cochayuyo” would be an endemic species in Chile, since D. antarctica is also found in the sub Antarctic zone and New Zealand.

The study called “The biogeographic importance of buoyancy in macroalgae: a case study of the southern bull-kelp genus Durvillaea (Phaeophyceae,) including descriptions of two new species,” was led by researchers from New Zealand (University of Otago,) being published recently in the prestigious algae magazine Journal of Phycology.