Pleodorina starrii

32- and 64-celled colonies of Pleodorina starrii.

32- and 64-celled colonies of Pleodorina starrii. Not to scale. Creative Commons License
Pleodorina starrii by Matthew Herron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I spent a year in graduate school trying to cross male and female strains of the volvocine green alga Pleodorina californicaA year. I did some other stuff in that time, but I spent an awful lot of it trying to convince these algae to get busy. I threw everything I could think of at them: four different mating media, different temperatures, different lighting conditions…nothing worked. I never recovered a single viable zygote. I needed to cross them to generate some genetic variation for an ambitious artificial selection study, my ‘official’ dissertation project. Eventually, my advisor suggested I ask Hisayoshi Nozaki for advice.

There is little doubt that Dr. Nozaki is the world’s leading expert on volvocine biodiversity, having described about half of the known species (see for example New Volvox SpeciesVolvox ovalis, and African Volvox in Montana). He responded that the strains of Pleodorina californica I had been failing to breed had been collected many years ago and had probably lost the ability to reproduce sexually (a problem I mentioned in Why don’t we revise volvocine taxonomy?). I had been spinning my wheels, never realizing that I had no hope of success. I should have contacted Dr. Nozaki about eleven months earlier.

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Volvox 2015 meeting review available online

Fig. 1 from Herron 2016. Examples of volvocine species. A: Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, B: Gonium pectorale, C: Astrephomene gubernaculiferum, D: Pandorina morum, E: Volvulina compacta, F: Platydorina caudata, G: Yamagishiella unicocca, H: Colemanosphaera charkowiensis, I: Eudorina elegans, J: Pleodorina starrii, K: Volvox barberi, L: Volvox ovalis, M: Volvox gigas, N: Volvox aureus, O: Volvox carteri.

Fig. 1 from Herron 2016. Examples of volvocine species. A: Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, B: Gonium pectorale, C: Astrephomene gubernaculiferum, D: Pandorina morum, E: Volvulina compacta, F: Platydorina caudata, G: Yamagishiella unicocca, H: Colemanosphaera charkowiensis, I: Eudorina elegans, J: Pleodorina starrii, K: Volvox barberi, L: Volvox ovalis, M: Volvox gigas, N: Volvox aureus, O: Volvox carteri. A and B by Deborah Shelton.

The meeting review for the Third International Volvox Conference is now available online at Molecular Ecology (doi: 10.1111/mec.13551). The editors warned me ahead of time that the challenge for this paper would be to make it of broad interest to the readership of Molecular Ecology, so there is a lot of background information that will be old news to members of the Volvox community.

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Volvox ovalis

Volvox ovalis

Volvox ovalis, strain NIES-2569.Creative Commons License
Volvox ovalis by Matthew Herron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Volvox ovalis was described by Hisayoshi Nozaki and Annette Coleman in 2011 from a strain collected near College Station, Texas. Colonies are often distinctly egg-shaped, up to 450 µm long, with 1000-2000 somatic cells and 8-12 gonidia. A member of the section Merrillosphaera, it is closely related to V. tertius and V. spermatosphaera:

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Volvox 2015: taxonomy, phylogeny & ecology

Volvox africanus

Volvox africanus (from Herron et al. 2010)

The worst-kept secret among Volvox researchers is that the current volvocine taxonomy is a train wreck. Within the largest family, the Volvocaceae, five nominal genera are polyphyletic (Pandorina, Volvulina, Eudorina, Pleodorina, and Volvox). Of the remaining three, two are monotypic (Platydorina and Yamagishiella). Only the newly described Colemanosphaera is monophyletic with more than one species. The extent of the problem was suspected long before it was confirmed by molecular phylogenetics, and ad hoc attempts to deal with it have led to the existence of such taxonomic abominations as ‘sections,’ ‘formas,’ and ‘syngens.’ An overhaul is called for, but it is complicated by the aforementioned loss of type cultures.

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