Discovery of 20 New Sea Lettuce Species in the Baltic Sea Region

by Tatsuya Nakamura
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biodiversity

A recent survey conducted by researchers from the University of Gothenburg has revealed a remarkable diversity of sea lettuce species in the Baltic Sea region and Skagerak. The comprehensive study, covering over 10,000 kilometers of coastal area, has identified a total of twenty distinct species of sea lettuce.

Sea lettuce, a type of green macroalgae belonging to the genus Ulva, is widely distributed across the vast Baltic Sea region, extending from the Atlantic waters to the Bay of Bothnia. Its rapid growth and easy reproduction have captured the attention of the growing aquaculture industry. Ongoing research in Sweden and abroad is exploring the potential use of sea lettuce in the food industry and various biochemical applications.

Until now, the number of sea lettuce species in the region remained unknown, with only a few identified species. However, the recent study has shed light on the existence of twenty unique species and subspecies. Notably, three of these species are invasive and have found their way into the area through different means.

In addition to the known species, the researchers have also discovered entirely new species of sea lettuce in Swedish waters that have not been scientifically described before. Some of these new species appear to be exclusive to the Baltic Sea.

This survey holds significant importance, particularly due to the growing industry of sea lettuce cultivation as a food source. Ignorance regarding foreign species poses a risk of their unintentional spread. To safeguard valuable coastal ecosystems, it is crucial to identify the species present and avoid introducing new species that could outcompete native ones.

Sophie Steinhagen, a researcher at Tjärnö Marine Laboratory, emphasizes the insufficiency of current methods relying solely on the visual appearance of green algae to identify species. The study has revealed a greater extent of biological diversity than previously understood.

The newfound knowledge allows for the development of strategies to preserve specific sea lettuce species along particular coasts. Furthermore, it can aid in formulating regulations concerning invasive species that should be avoided in sustainable aquaculture practices.

Sea lettuce, scientifically known as Ulva, comprises numerous species of green algae. In Sweden, it grows on cliffs and rocks along the entire West Coast and in the Baltic Sea, reaching up to the Bay of Bothnia. Sea lettuce is highly nutritious, containing substantial protein content, healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fibers, and valuable biochemical molecules. Ongoing research in Sweden and internationally aims to harness the potential of sea lettuce in the food industry and various biochemical applications.

Reference: “Molecular identification of the ubiquitous green algae Ulva reveals high biodiversity, crypticity, and invasive species in the Atlantic-Baltic Sea region” by Sophie Steinhagen, Samanta Hoffmann, Henrik Pavia, and Gunilla B. Toth, published in Algal Research on May 5, 2023. DOI: 10.1016/j.algal.2023.103132

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about biodiversity

What did the researchers discover in the Baltic Sea region?

The researchers discovered 20 new species of sea lettuce, a type of green algae, in the Baltic Sea region through a comprehensive survey.

Why is sea lettuce significant?

Sea lettuce is significant because it is a potential food source and has caught the attention of the growing aquaculture industry due to its rapid growth and easy reproduction.

How many species of sea lettuce were previously known?

Until this survey, only a few species of sea lettuce had been identified. The recent study revealed the existence of 20 distinct species and subspecies in the Baltic Sea region.

What are the potential applications of sea lettuce?

Sea lettuce is being researched for its utilization in the food industry and various biochemical applications due to its nutritional value, high protein content, polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fibers, and valuable biochemical molecules.

What is the importance of identifying sea lettuce species?

Identifying sea lettuce species is crucial to maintain and protect valuable coastal ecosystems. It helps prevent the unintentional spread of invasive species and ensures the right species are cultivated in the right places to preserve biodiversity.

More about biodiversity

  • “Molecular identification of the ubiquitous green algae Ulva reveals high biodiversity, crypticity, and invasive species in the Atlantic-Baltic Sea region” (Research paper): Link
  • University of Gothenburg: Link
  • Tjärnö Marine Laboratory: Link
  • Aquaculture: Link
  • Baltic Sea: Link

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