Morphological and taxonomic studies of Gracilaria and Gracilariopsis species (Gracilariales, Rhodophyta) from South Africa

Journal Article


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South African Journal of Botany

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University of Cape Town

Southern Africa has an extremely rich and diverse seaweed flora with a wide variety of marine habitats. Increased commercial interest in these seaweed resources has been the stimulus for biodiversity studies. The Gracilariaceae (Rhodophyta) has emerged as one of the families that possess economic potential as a source of agar and as a potential feed for abalone. A lack of knowledge concerning the taxonomic status of many members of this family is a concern. Gross morphological characters have been the main means of identification and incorrect applications have led to a number of misidentifications. Consequently, a comprehensive reappraisal and revision of these species was carried out. The species count for the South African Gracilariaceae is now two Gracilariopsis species, and nine Gracilaria species. Gracilaria crassa has been reduced to a synonym of G. canaliculata. It is believed that G. foliifera was erroneously identified and specimens in South Africa referred to as G. millardetii and G. protea are assigned to G. corticata. South African Gracilariopsis, previously referred to as Gs. lemaneiformis, is confirmed to be conspecific with European Gs. longissima. This species occurs along the west and south coasts of South Africa, co-existing in a few habitats with G. gracilis. The taxonomic identity of G. vieillardii specimens from South Africa and the differentiation of G. canaliculata and G. salicornia has been confirmed based on morphology. Three species of Gracilaria (G. aculeata, G. beckeri and G. capensis) are endemic or near endemic to the South African coast, and a fourth species, G. denticulata is localised in southeast Africa.