Revealing hidden diversity in the sheathia arcuata morphospecies (Batrachospermales, rhodophyta) including four new species

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© 2020 The Korean Society of Phycology. The freshwater red algal genus Sheathia contains species with heterocortication (both bulbous and cylindrical cells covering the main axis) and homocortication (only cylindrical cells). When the genus was proposed, the species with heterocortication were revised, but all specimens with homocortication were assigned to Sheathia arcuata with the caveat that it may represent a species complex. Recent studies have described new species with homocortication and S. arcuata has been rendered paraphyletic. In the current study, new sequences of the rbcL and 5′ region of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I markers were combined with previously published data to construct a robust phylogeny and circum-scribe new species. Four new species, S. abscondita, S. californica, S. plantuloides, and S. transpacifica are proposed. Examination of morphological characters among homocorticate species show no diagnostic characters to distinguish among species, whereas S. plantuloides is only known from sporophytes (chantransia) so it lacks the typical morphological characters derived from the gametophytes for comparison. Although DNA sequence data would be needed to make a positive species identification, geography could be employed to narrow the identification to one or two species. The genus is geographically widespread having been recorded from oceanic islands and five continents, whereas the individual species typically occur on a single continent. With this study, the number of species recognized in Sheathia is raised to 17; seven heterocorticate and 10 homocorticate, making this genus one of the most species rich in the Ba-trachospermales. As well, the resulting phylogeny provides insights into the evolution of heterocortication in Sheathia.