Phylomineralogy of the Coralline red algae: correlation of skeletal mineralogy with molecular phylogeny

The coralline algae in the orders Corallinales and Sporolithales (subclass Corallinophycidae), with their high degree of mineralogical variability, pose a challenge to projections regarding mineralogy and response to ocean acidification. Here we relate skeletal carbonate mineralogy to a well-established phylogenetic framework and draw inferences about the effects of future changes in sea-water chemistry on these calcified red algae. A collection of 191 coralline algal specimens from New Zealand, representing 13 genera and 28 species, included members of three families: Corallinaceae, Hapalidiaceae, and Sporolithaceae. While most skeletal specimens were entirely calcitic (range: 73–100 wt.% calcite, mean 97 wt.% calcite, std dev = 5, n = 172), a considerable number contained at least some aragonite. Mg in calcite ranged from 10.5 to 16.4 wt.% MgCO3, with a mean of 13.1 wt.% MgCO3 (std dev = 1.1, n = 172). The genera Mesophyllum and Lithophyllum were especially variable. Growth habit, too, was related to mineralogy: geniculate coralline algae do not generally contain any aragonite. Mg content varied among coralline families: the Corallinaceae had the highest Mg content, followed by the Sporolithaceae and the Hapalidiaceae. Despite the significant differences among families, variation and overlap prevent the use of carbonate mineralogy as a taxonomic character in the coralline algae. Latitude (as a proxy for water temperature) had only a slight relationship to Mg content in coralline algae, contrary to trends observed in other biomineralising taxa. Temperate magnesium calcites, like those produced by coralline algae, are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Changes in biomineralisation or species distribution may occur over the next few decades, particularly to species producing high-Mg calcite, as pH and CO2 dynamics change in coastal temperate oceans.

Smith, A. M., Sutherland, J. E., Kregting L., Farr T.J. & Winter D.J., in press. Phylomineralogy of the Coralline red algae: correlation of skeletal mineralogy with molecular phylogeny. Phytochemistry. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2012.06.003. Article (subscription required).

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