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Free-floating Ulva in the southwest Netherlands: species or morphotypes? A morphological, molecular and ecological comparison



Free-floating Ulva L. biomass in the eutrophic brackish ‘Veerse Meer’ lagoon (southwest Netherlands) consists of four morphologically identified species: U. curvata (Kützing) De Toni, U. lactuca L., U. rigida C. Agardh and U. scandinavica Bliding. U. curvata could be recognized easily because of the characteristic central cavity in the holdfast of the attached plants, the arrangement of cells in rows and the single pyrenoid in each cell. U. rigida was distinguished by the thick thallus and the large number of pyrenoids. The Veerse Meer isolate, however, was slightly different from the isolate from the Oosterschelde estuary (the Netherlands). U. lactuca and U. scandinavica showed a high degree of overlap in thallus thickness and cell size, but U. scandinavica usually possessed more pyrenoids. However, doubts have frequently been expressed about the use of some morphological characters in Ulva taxonomy. To determine the validity of such characters in the identification of Ulva species, the morphological variation within and between morphological species was recorded and a molecular data set generated. To detect possible ecophysiological differences between species, optimum temperatures and salinities for growth were determined experimentally. The sequences of the nuclear ribosomal DNA internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) and flanking regions of U. lactuca, U. rigida and U. scandinavica from the Veerse Meer were all identical, but differed from that of U. rigida from the Oosterschelde estuary. Ulva species from the Veerse Meer were most closely related to U. armoricana and U. rigida from Brittany (2·9% and 3·5% divergence respectively); the difference between U. rigida from the Veerse Meer and from the Oosterschelde estuary was 7·5%. Rooted trees, based on a comparison of these sequences with sequences of other Ulva and Enteromorpha species obtained from the literature, using Monostroma arcticum as outgroup, suggested that Ulva is paraphyletic with respect to Enteromorpha. The optimum temperature for growth of U. curvata was 25 °C; for all other species it was 10 °C. The optimum salinity for growth was 30 °C for all isolates. It is concluded that U. lactuca, U rigida and U. scandinavica from the Veerse Meer are all members of one highly polymorphic species.


Corresponding author

Correspondence to: Erik-jan Malta. Tel: +31 (0)113 577482. Fax: +31 (0)113 573616. e-mail:



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