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A New Species of Nori-Like Seaweed From Calvert Island - Hakai Institute

A New Species of Nori-Like Seaweed From Calvert Island

Winter is a great time to view the diversity of foliose red algae on our shore. This is the time of year these foliose species complete their sexual cycle. Many of these delectable species, which include nori—the seaweed wrap for sushi—grow on high intertidal bedrock in the dead of winter, where they are protected by winter storms. Predators would be ripped from the shore by crashing waves if they tried to feed on these tasty morsels.

A new species of seaweed was described from collections on Calvert Island. Photo by Sandra Lindstrom

Although the species of Porphyra and their relatives have been well studied on the Pacific Coast of North America for well over a century, application of molecular sequencing to these thin blades has revealed a surprising amount of cryptic diversity. One of the groups of species that has turned out to be especially rich in species in this region is the Pyropia lanceolata species complex (related species that appear very similar).

This group was the focus of work by S. C. Lindstrom and K. M. Cole in the early 1990s before DNA sequencing became common. Now that we have DNA sequences, we can recognize even more species in this complex. Recently, we described three new species related to Pyropia lanceolata: two are restricted to California whereas the third occurs from northern California to British Columbia.

This third species was first recognized as distinct from collections I made at Cape Mendocino in northern California in early April 2008. Three years later, I collected the same species at the Hakai Institute’s Calvert Island research station in August. Since this is normally a winter species, the summer specimen from Calvert Island was in very poor condition and could not be used to clearly characterize the species.

A visit to the Calvert Island research station in February 2014 provided abundant material of this previously undescribed species. Specimens occurring on rock at the south end of West Beach were used to describe the species as new to science. I named the species Pyropia columbiensis in honor of the 100th anniversary of the University of British Columbia herbarium, where the type and other specimens of this new species are housed. The name also seemed appropriate for the sister species of Pyropia montereyensis, which occupies the same niche as Py. columbiensis south of Cape Mendocino.