The diversity of the brown algal genus Sargassum C.Agardh in the Philippines is the highest in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. However, most studies on Philippine Sargassum are based on morpho-anatomies and the assumption that the genus is very diverse in the country has never been tested based on molecular information. Considering that many Sargassum species are highly polymorphic and the recent advance on Sargassum systematics facilitated by molecular phylogenetic studies, we believe that the species of Sargassum from the Philippines should now be reassessed with the tools of molecular taxonomy. We present here the results of our molecular-assisted taxonomic studies on the Sargassum of the northern Philippines, particularly along the coasts of four coastal provinces in northwestern Luzon (i.e., Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan). We recognized three distinct species lineages, namely, Sargassum aquifolium (Turner) C.Agardh, Sargassum ilicifolium (Turner) C.Agardh, and Sargassum polycystum C.Agardh based on our molecular analyses of 74 specimens from our study areas. Our morphological observations on the range of characters of these species also suggest that several common Sargassum taxa in the Philippines have been misidentified. Particularly, specimens previously attributed to S. kushimotense Yendo should be referred as S. aquifolium while the widely distributed and highly plastic S. ilicifolium is often confused and identified in the Philippines under several names including S. crassifolium J.Agardh, S. cristaefolium C.Agardh, and S. turbinarioides Grunow. Taken together, our results suggest that Sargassum biodiversity in the Philippines may have been inflated by misidentifications, and, that species diversity is actually much lower than initially thought.
Pacific Ocean, Philippines, Sargassaceae, Fucales