[ASC-media] Media release: Entwisleia - new seaweed named after Botanic Gardens' Chief Executive may be Hobart's Wollemi Pine

Tim Entwisle Tim.Entwisle at rbg.vic.gov.au
Mon Sep 2 00:31:54 CEST 2013




2 September August 2013
MEDIA RELEASE: ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS MELBOURNE

New seaweed named after Botanic Gardens’ Chief Executive may be
Hobart’s Wollemi Pine

In a discovery arguably more significant than the Wollemi Pine, algal
experts from Australia and Canada have published a new and unusual
organism from the coast of Tasmania. 
The new alga (or seaweed) is Entwisleia bella, classified in the family
Entwisleiaceae in the order Entwisleiales. It has been named in honour
of the Director and Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne,
also an expert in the classification of algae.
“I’m honoured to have such a beautiful alga named after me,” says
Professor Tim Entwisle, “and immensely thrilled that this discovery is
also an important scientific find. Not just a new species to science,
but a new genus, family and order”.
“Finding Entwisleia is like sighting the very first conifer (pine-like
plants), primate, spider or diprotodontids (kangaroo, possum, koala or
possum) on Earth,” says Entwisle.
“Not only that but it may be almost as rare as the Wollemi Pine, now
only know from a hundred or so specimens distributed between a few small
populations. Entwisleia is known only from a dozen or so seasonal
individuals on a few submerged rocks south of Hobart. We don’t know how
secure it is, or how it might cope with environmental change.” 
The Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), discovered 19 years ago near
Sydney, was rightly hailed as a scientific marvel. It’s true it was
already known from the fossil record and thought to be extinct, and it
is unusual to find a brand new genus of tree in Australia, but Professor
Entwisle points out it fits into an existing family, the Araucariaceae,
with hoop pines and monkey puzzle trees. This family is, in turn, part
of the order Pinales including all known pine trees and conifers. 
“This is Hobart’s Wollemi Pine,” says Entwisle “closer to this city
than the Wollemi Pine’s habitat is to Sydney, more significant in an
evolutionary sense and perhaps as rare. This goes to show how much there
is still to discover in Australia’s algal flora. I got into algae after
finding something unusual and new for Victoria in Melbourne’s Darebin
Creek – it was the thrill of discovery and curiosity that hooked me.”
One of the authors of the paper, Professor Gerry Kraft from The
University of Melbourne, says “This alga is so bizarre and unexpected
that when we found it we could scarcely believe our luck.  It looks
astonishingly like the exclusively freshwater algae Professor Entwisle
is a world expert in, and nothing in the oceans is like it. But although
we have both male and female plants, as well as all the embryo stages,
there are mysteries still to solve. One phase of the life history is
completely unknown, and who knows where the alga goes -- and what it
looks like -- during the eight or so months of the year when it
completely disappears”.  
The key to unravelling the mystery of its unique place in the red-algal
family tree lay in the DNA fingerprinting done by Professor Saunders
(the University of New Brunswick, Canada), who pronounced Entwisleia
“one of the most challenging algae he has ever sequenced”. 
Representative specimens will be stored in the herbaria of Hobart and
Melbourne.

Media enquiries: Katie O’Brien (03) 9252 2470 or 0409 507 485
www.rbg.vic.gov.au

Background information
·         There is still much to learn about the algae in Australia.
It’s estimated that in the oceans, lakes, streams and ponds of this
country there are 12,000-18,000 species (cf. 25,000 vascular plants),
with about 10,000 described so far. We know very little about the
evolution, biology and ecology of any species. 
·         Southern Australian coastlines support more than 1,150
species of algae (seaweeds), compared with 1,000 in the Mediterranean
Sea, 900 around Japan and 900 in the Philippines. More than 60% per cent
of the species in Australian w
aters are found nowhere else.
·         There is greater biological diversity in what we call algae
than in flowering plants, animals and fungi combined. ‘Algae’ are
scattered throughout the tree of life, not just on one branch like these
other groups. 
·         ‘Algae’, including many things that we call seaweeds, is a
category of convenience rather than an evolutionarily distinct lineage.
The red algae are closely related to the branch that leads to green
plants including flowers and pines.
·         Tim Entwisle has worked on the Batrachospermales, a group of
freshwater red algae that grow in mostly pristine streams and lakes
around the world, with about 25 known species in Australia (more than
half of which occur in Tasmania).
·         Fiona Scott, who originally discovered the alga and then
dived regularly to study its abundance and ecology, was supported in her
work by the Winifred Violet Scott Charitable Trust. Fiona works for the
Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania
in Hobart.
·         The paper describing the new alga will be published in
hardcopy in November 2013 and online a little sooner:  Scott, F.J,
Saunders G.W. and Kraft, G.T. (2013) Entwisleia bella gen. et sp. nov.,
an novel marine “batrachospermaceous” red alga from southeastern
Tasmania representing a new family and order in the Nemaliophycidae.
European Journal of Phycology 48(4).

– ENDS –

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