Marine algae, or limu, are very important in Hawaiian culture, used in foods, ceremonies and as adornments in traditional hula. Some new species of limu were collected between 200-400 feet, depths not typically known for marine algae.
Scientists consulted with the Native Hawaiian community to develop meaningful names for new species to honor the great importance they have in Hawaiian culture. The name of the new species was inspired by the Hawaiian god of prosperity (Kū) and the area north of Maui, and is intended to refer to “grass of Kū”.
For the experts: Ulvalean algae (Chlorophyta) are most commonly described from intertidal and shallow subtidal marine environments worldwide, but are less well known from mesophotic environments. Their morphological simplicity and phenotypic plasticity make accurate species determinations difficult, even at the generic level. Here, we describe the mesophotic Ulvales species composition from 13 locations across 2,300 km of the Hawaiian Archipelago. Twenty-eight representative Ulvales specimens from 64 to 125 m depths were collected using technical diving, submersibles, and remotely operated vehicles. Morphological and molecular characters suggest that mesophotic Ulvales in Hawaiian waters form unique communities comprising four species within the genera Ulva and Umbraulva, each with discrete geographic and/or depth-related distributional patterns. Three genetically distinct taxa are supported by both plastid (rbcL and tufA) and nuclear (ITS1) markers, and are presented here as new species: Umbraulva kaloakulau, Ulva ohiohilulu, and Ulva iliohaha. We also propose a new Umbraulva species (Umbraulva kuaweuweu), which is closely related to subtidal records from New Zealand and Australia, but not formally described. To our knowledge, these are the first marine species descriptions from Hawai‘i resulting from the collaboration of traditional Hawaiian nomenclature specialists, cultural practitioners and scientists. The difficulty of finding reliable diagnostic morphological characters for these species reflects a common problem worldwide of achieving accurate identification of ulvalean taxa using solely morphological criteria. Mesophotic Ulvales appear to be distinct from shallow-water populations in Hawai‘i, but their degree of similarity to mesophotic floras in other locations in the Pacific remains unknown.