Get access

Ulva (Chlorophyta, Ulvales) Biodiversity in the North Adriatic Sea (Mediterranean, Italy): Cryptic Species and New Introductions


Author for correspondence: e-mail


Ulva Linnaeus (Ulvophyceae, Ulvales) is a genus of green algae widespread in different aquatic environments. Members of this genus show a very simple morphology and a certain degree of phenotypic plasticity, heavily influenced by environmental conditions, making difficult the delineation of species by morphological features alone. Most studies dealing with Ulva biodiversity in Mediterranean waters have been based only on morphological characters and a modern taxonomic revision of this genus in the Mediterranean is not available. We report here the results of an investigation on the diversity of Ulva in the North Adriatic Sea based on molecular analyses. Collections from three areas, two of which subject to intense shipping traffic, were examined, as well as historical collections of Ulva stored in the Herbarium Patavinum of the University of Padova, Italy. Molecular analyses based on partial sequences of the rbcL and tufA genes revealed the presence of six different species, often with overlapping morphologies: U. californica Wille, U. flexuosa Wulfen, U. rigida C. Agardh, U. compressa Linnaeus, U. pertusa Kjellman, and one probable new taxon. U. californica is a new record for the Mediterranean and U. pertusa is a new record for the Adriatic. Partial sequences obtained from historical collections show that most of the old specimens are referable to U. rigida. No specimens referable to the two alien species were found among the old herbarium specimens. The results indicate that the number of introduced seaweed species and their impact on Mediterranean communities have been underestimated, due to the difficulties in species identification of morphologically simple taxa as Ulva.