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Mexican Researcher identifies new species of marine algae

31 December 2013 Investigación y Desarrollo

The species that historically was quoted as the most abundant of coral algae that forms rodoliths at the Gulf of California in Mexico, is in reality a compound of five different species. This finding was made by Jazmín Hernández Kantun, marine biologist at the Autonomous University of South Baja California (UABCS), resulting in a change of paradigm in the study of the species known as Lithophyllum margaritae.
 
In fact, this Mexican research has reached Europe, where Hernández Kantun continues the project and her studies at Ireland’s National University with the support of the Mexican National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt).
 
According with the Mexican researcher, the objective now is to determine the number of species of coral algae in Europe and Mexico trough molecular tests.

“Coral algae in Mexico and trough out the world are usually identified only by their shape and color. However, is necessary to investigate the species in depth, given that bigger biodiversity exists in this organism than previously thought” said the researcher.

About the importance of her discoveries, the researcher exposed that since 1992 the Habitats Directive of the European Union protects two rodoliths forming species: Lithothamnion corallioides and Phymatolithon calcareum; considering them the most abundant and important, giving them relevance as a marine ecosystem and using them as rich mineral fertilizers.

The specialist found that at least other two species: L. glaciale and L. tophiforme, should be considered in the protected group having the same characteristics.

The environmental value of coral algae lies in the fact that when detached during tides and accumulate in specific areas, they form mantles of rodoliths which are rich in calcium and used by corals, clams, larvae and mollusks as “foundation” to start their development.

However, global warming is changing the natural chemistry of ocean ecosystems, increasing the absorption of carbon dioxide and modifying its acidification levels (pH).

Hernández Kantun warned that the acidification could remove the mantles of rodoliths from the ecosystem, directly affecting the mollusks, corals and any other organism found in them.

The marine biologist insisted that the coral’s biological diversity must be considered. She assured that the negative effects of climate change and the level of repercussion that come with them are different for each species.

“A lot of research is missing in this field, we haven’t quite understood the diversity of this algae, is like saying that all dogs are alike when each breed has different genetics and response to environmental factors. Is not the same to protect one than five different species!” she highlighted.

After four years of studying for her PhD in Ireland and collaborating with researchers from the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Italy, Jazmín Hernández Kantun is waiting for her grade exam to return to Mexico where she plans to found a laboratory to continue with her research and use it for the conservation of this marine organisms.

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