BACKGROUND: DNA barcoding is becoming a widely applied tool for the quick and accurate identification of species. The evolution of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene is sufficiently rapid to allow discrimination between closely related species and biogeographic subgroups within species. Gracilaria salicornia was originally described as being from Manila, the Philippines, and is distributed throughout Asia and the Indian Ocean. To more accurately define this species and its genetic diversity owing to the confusion of identification historically, DNA barcoding using the 5' end of the COI gene of the mitochondrial genome was applied to specimens collected from the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, China, and Japan, and they were compared to other gracilarian species.
RESULTS: Within species, the COI marker yielded two clusters with nucleotide divergences of 0.0-1.3%. This divergence is slightly higher than the typical intraspecific variation for red algae. A total of eight COI haplotypes were found for G. salicornia, comprising the following groups: H1-H3 from the Philippines; H4 from Okinawa in Japan; H5-H7 from Malaysia, Thailand, and China; and H8 from Thailand.
CONCLUSION: Although this work concentrated on a limited geographical region of a widespread taxon, the data shows intraspecific molecular divergences in G. salicornia and provides further evidence that DNA barcodes are useful tools for identifying species boundaries and examining biogeographical haplotypes for the genus Gracilaria.