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TRUE IDENTITY OF THE EUROPEAN FRESHWATER ULVA (CHLOROPHYTA, ULVOPHYCEAE) REVEALED BY A COMBINED MOLECULAR AND MORPHOLOGICAL APPROACH

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  • Received 4 October 2010. Accepted 16 February 2011.

Abstract

A set of 18 freshwater and morphologically similar marine samples of Ulva were collected from inland and coastal waters throughout Europe to assess their taxonomic identity and invasive potential. An additional 11 specimens were obtained from herbaria. The material was studied using a combination of classical morphological methods and molecular techniques; the latter included sequencing of the nuclear internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region (ITS1-5.8S-ITS2) and the chloroplast RUBISCO LSU (rbcL) gene and comparison of the ITS2 secondary structure predictions. Based on classical methods, all the specimens could be determined as U. flexuosa Wulfen and could be further divided into three groups matching three infraspecific taxa. This pattern was generally well supported by molecular phylogenetic analyses. All sequenced samples formed a monophyletic lineage within Ulva, showing a putative synapomorphy in the ITS2 secondary structure. The individual subspecies corresponded to phylogenetic clusters within this lineage. In freshwater habitats, the dominant taxon was U. flexuosa subsp. pilifera, but subsp. paradoxa was also occasionally recorded. In marine habitats, only U. flexuosa subsp. flexuosa and subsp. paradoxa were located. These findings support the view that U. flexuosa subsp. pilifera is primarily a freshwater alga that probably dominates in Europe. As confirmed by the study of herbarium specimens, U. flexuosa should be regarded as indigenous, although it has a tendency to form blooms under certain conditions. Besides clarifying the identity of prevailing European freshwater Ulva, the study provides novel data concerning the distribution and morphological plasticity within the U. flexuosa complex.

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