These organisms are capable of moving from one pole to another, overcoming climatic barriers and generating blooming episodes. Thanks to the research, published in the scientific journal Cryptogamie Algologie, three new species were identified for the area.

Daniela Jofré, IDEAL Center. Scientific works on the diversity and composition of brown and red algae, organisms mostly endemic to Antarctica, are numerous. However, there is a third type of algae, the so-called green algae, which are in smaller numbers on the white continent, and have been little studied. However, the arrival of new species could significantly change Antarctic marine biodiversity.

As a result of the above, a team of researchers led by Hélène Dubrasquet, a marine biologist from the Institute of Environmental and Evolutionary Sciences (ICAEV) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh), undertook the task of identifying the species of green algae present in the Antarctic territory.

“It is assumed that Antarctic green algae are very well known due to their low number of species. However, the use of genetic tools has recently shown that there are cryptic species, that is, species with the same morphology, but genetically different. Thus, the biodiversity in Antarctic algae is underestimated and carrying out genetic studies allows us to gather basic information on these organisms,” says Dubrasquet.

The study, published in the scientific journal Cryptogamie Algologie, consisted of developing a database with genetic information on the diversity of green algae in Antarctica, in order to keep a record of any organism with similar characteristics that could cross the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC.)

The researchers studied the DNA of 122 green algae samples, which were collected during the Antarctic campaigns of 2013 and 2014. In the results, three new species were identified for the area: Rosenvingiella radicans, Urospora wormskioldii and Ulvella islandica. The molecular identification revealed great coincidences between these algae from Antarctica and samples obtained in the northern hemisphere, confirming that they have an amphipolar distribution (presence at both poles of the planet.)

“They are species to which special attention must be paid: due to their mobility between poles and their ability to withstand extreme conditions, they can become potential invaders of newly colonized places,” explains Dr. Marie-Laure Guillemin, geneticist at the IDEAL Center of the UACh, and co-author of the study.

According to the scientist, the green algae that live in cold waters in other regions could be able to pass through the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC,) which acts as a natural barrier, reaching the coasts of the white continent through ballast water and the hull of ships.

“In Antarctica there is less diversity of green algae, there are fewer species reported. However, they have the ability to survive in very stressful conditions and some of these organisms belong to the same genus as algae that have generated proliferation (bloom) in various areas of the world, such as in China during the 2008 Olympic Games, causing great problems,” says Dr. Guillemin.

“In the case of green algae, which due to their intrinsic characteristics are candidates to be invasive species, it is of utmost importance to be able to identify and monitor them in the context of global change and increased maritime traffic in the Antarctic area,” explains Dubrasquet.

The team will focus on monitoring the status of green Antarctic flora to achieve rapid detection of settlements of non-native species in Antarctic waters, which could help create environmental recommendations for shipping, including tourism activities and shipment of scientific material.