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Algal of the year: The Stoneworts (Chara species) – pioneers and keystone species under threat

The stonewort Chara horrida had disappeared from German waters in 1980 but has now been rediscovered by algal researchers in the Bodden Waters off the Baltic island of Hiddensee . The alga which can be up to 40 cm in length has so many spines that its main axis is hardly visible (see image below) which has resulted in its descriptive German common name ‘struppig’ which means ‘bristly’ or ‘rugged’. Photo: © Sven Dahlke, Biologische Station Hiddensee, Germany.

Stoneworts belonging to the genus Chara are algae of the year 2012. They were selected by algal researchers of the Phycology Section of the German Botanical Society because members of this genus represent so many different algal life strategies. According to algal expert Dr Irmgard Blindow from the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University Greifswald, some Chara species are able to conquer new aquatic habitats as ‘pioneers’ whilst others exhibit very specific growth requirements, and once having colonised an area, can shape an ecosystem. The decision to declare Chara ‘Algae of the year’ acknowledges the importance of this group of algae which comprises 20 native species included in the Red List of threatened species.

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