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MEPS
Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 654:225-231 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13506

OPINION PIECE
The need to employ reliable and reproducible species identifications in coralline algal research

Brenton A. Twist1,2,3,*, Christopher E. Cornwall4, Sophie J. McCoy5, Paul W. Gabrielson6, Patrick T. Martone1,2, Wendy A. Nelson3, 7

1Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, Vancouver V6T 1Z4, BC, Canada
2Hakai Institute, Hyacinthe Bay Road, Quadra Island, Vancouver V9W 5E3, BC, Canada
3National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington 6241, New Zealand
4School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
5Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32304, USA
6Herbarium and Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA
7School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Coralline algae perform important ecological roles in nearshore marine ecosystems globally by promoting the settlement of invertebrate larvae and enhancing biodiversity by creating habitat. However, these roles are severely threatened by global environmental changes. Most coralline algae are extremely difficult to identify, and DNA sequencing has revealed rampant inaccuracy of morpho-anatomical approaches to distinguish species, and even genera. If appropriate identification methods are not reported, or even used, we will be left with an uninterpretable body of literature where the species-specific biology of coralline algae cannot be validated. This will make it difficult to determine the impact a changing ocean may have on these ecologically important species. We reveal the magnitude of the issue in coralline algal research—both the identification methods used and the reporting of identification protocols. An analysis of 341 articles over the past decade revealed that only 7.6% used molecular methods, with over 70% not reporting any details of how species were identified. While many coralline algal taxonomists understand that the majority of species cannot be identified morphologically, this message has not disseminated to the ecological and physiological community. We provide a series of guidelines for conducting DNA-based identifications and strongly recommend the use of these methods over less informative morpho-anatomical techniques. Most importantly, the methods of identification should be adequately reported. Without following these guidelines, research on coralline algae runs the risk of collecting uninterpretable data, and conducting irreproducible science, slowing our ability to determine how these important species will respond to future ocean conditions.


KEY WORDS: Species identification · DNA barcoding · Calcifying algae · Molecular tools · Rhodolith · Voucher specimens · Maerl


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Cite this article as: Twist BA, Cornwall CE, McCoy SJ, Gabrielson PW, Martone PT, Nelson WA (2020) The need to employ reliable and reproducible species identifications in coralline algal research. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 654:225-231. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13506

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