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Enigmatic Phytomyxid Parasite of the Alien Seagrass Halophila stipulacea: New Insights into Its Ecology, Phylogeny, and Distribution in the Mediterranean Sea

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Abstract

Marine phytomyxids represent often overlooked obligate biotrophic parasites colonizing diatoms, brown algae, and seagrasses. An illustrative example of their enigmatic nature is the phytomyxid infecting the seagrass Halophila stipulacea (a well-known Lessepsian migrant from the Indo-Pacific to the Mediterranean Sea). In the Mediterranean, the occurrence of this phytomyxid was first described in 1995 in the Strait of Messina (southern Italy) and the second time in 2017 in the Aegean coast of Turkey. Here we investigated, using scuba diving, stereomicroscopy, light and scanning electron microscopy, and molecular methods, whether the symbiosis is still present in southern Italy, its distribution in this region and its relation to the previous reports. From the total of 16 localities investigated, the symbiosis has only been found at one site. A seasonal pattern was observed with exceptionally high abundance (> 40% of the leaf petioles colonized) in September 2017, absence of the symbiosis in May/June 2018, and then again high infection rates (~ 30%) in September 2018. In terms of anatomy and morphology as well as resting spore dimensions and arrangement, the symbiosis seems to be identical to the preceding observations in the Mediterranean. According to the phylogenetic analyses of the 18S rRNA gene, the phytomyxid represents the first characterized member of the environmental clade “TAGIRI-5”. Our results provide new clues about its on-site ecology (incl. possible dispersal mechanisms), hint that it is rare but established in the Mediterranean, and encourage further research into its distribution, ecophysiology, and taxonomy.

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Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge Gabriele Procaccini for the mediation of our cooperation in the beginning of this wonderful journey, Ondřej Borovec for the preparation of the permanent slides, Michael Kotyk for his help and brilliant ideas in the molecular procedures and Jiří Machač for the assistance during photographic documentation.

Funding

This study was supported by the Grant Agency of Charles University (project GAUK 1308218) and constitutes a part of long-term research projects of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Botany (RVO 67985939), and Charles University, Faculty of Science (MŠMT LO1417).

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Correspondence to Viktorie Kolátková.

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Kolátková, V., Čepička, I., Gargiulo, G.M. et al. Enigmatic Phytomyxid Parasite of the Alien Seagrass Halophila stipulacea: New Insights into Its Ecology, Phylogeny, and Distribution in the Mediterranean Sea. Microb Ecol 79, 631–643 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-019-01450-3

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