Evidence for the introduction of the Asian red alga Neosiphonia japonica and its introgression with Neosiphonia harveyi (Ceramiales, Rhodophyta) in the Northwest Atlantic

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There is currently conflict in the literature on the taxonomic status of the reportedly cosmopolitan species Neosiphonia harveyi, a common red alga along the coast of Atlantic Canada and New England, USA. Neosiphonia harveyi sensu lato was assessed using three molecular markers: COI-5P, ITS and rbcL. All three markers clearly delimited three genetic species groups within N. harveyi sensu lato in this region, which we identified as N. harveyi, N. japonica and Polysiphonia akkeshiensis (here resurrected from synonymy with N. japonica). Although Neosiphonia harveyi is considered by some authors to be introduced to the Atlantic from the western Pacific, it was only confirmed from the North Atlantic suggesting it is native to this area. In contrast, Neosiphonia japonica was collected from only two sites in Rhode Island, USA, as well as from its reported native range in Asia (South Korea), which when combined with data in GenBank indicates that this species was introduced to the Northwest Atlantic. The GenBank data further indicate that N. japonica was also introduced to North Carolina, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Despite the fact that all three markers clearly delimited N. harveyi and N. japonica as distinct genetic species groups, the ITS sequences for some N. harveyi individuals displayed mixed patterns and additivity indicating introgression of nuclear DNA from N. japonica into N. harveyi in the Northwest Atlantic. Introgression of DNA from an introduced species to a native species (i.e. ‘genetic pollution’) is one of the possible consequences of species introductions, and we believe this is the first documented evidence for this phenomenon in red algae.