|Meise, 28 November 2019 — The biodiversity in Antarctica appears to be much richer than was generally assumed. This is underlined by the discovery of a new siliceous alga on one of the sub-Antarctic islands in the southern Indian Ocean. This year, biologist Bart Van de Vijver (Meise Botanic Garden) and his colleague Luc Ector (Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology) discovered a new species of diatoms on the Crozet archipelago. The little species was named Microcostatus elisabethianus and was named after the Belgian Crown Princess Elisabeth.
Diatoms are microscopic algae that are characterized by their outer shell that is entirely made up of silicon dioxide (SiO2), say glass. They are one of the most diverse algal groups worldwide. They contribute significantly to the fight against CO2 increase and are also responsible for almost 25% of world oxygen production.
Diatoms have a very fine surface design that is unique to each species, making it possible to distinguish the species from each other. They are often real natural gems.
Microcostatus elisabethianus is a small diatom species and reaches a maximum length of just 20 microns, about one 50th of a millimeter. Moreover, the species is very rare and therefore remained undiscovered for a long time. Detailed research using a scanning electron microscope allowed phycologist Van de Vijver to unravel the unique structure of this beautiful new species.
It is no coincidence that the new alga was named after the Belgian Crown Princess. When scientists are 100% sure that they have discovered a new species, a month-long procedure follows to name this unknown species. The results showed that the new species belongs to the small genus Microcostatus, hence the first part of the name. New animal and plant species are often named after people to honor them. When the new Belgian South Pole Base was solemnly opened in Antarctica in 2009, it was given the name of the Belgian Crown Princess: Princess Elisabeth Base. Although unfortunately no diatoms were found near the base, both Belgian scientists still wanted to name a species after our Crown Princess, 10 years after the opening of the Princess Elisabeth Base. For the time being, the new species has only been observed in soil samples on a small sub-Antarctic islet of the Crozet archipelago in the Indian Ocean and is up to now the only species in its group in the entire area.
The description of Microcostatus elisabethianus was recently published in the scientific journal Plant Ecology and Evolution, published by Meise Botanic Garden.