July 31 (UPI) -- Scientists have found a surprise algae species growing in Wisconsin lakes, a species most thought was existent from the Americas.
Lychnothamnus barbatus is a tall algae species. It has previously been found in Europe and Australasia. Cretaceous-era fossils unearthed in Australia offer the only evidence of the species in the Americas.
Having disappeared from the scientific record, most assumed it had died out with the dinosaurs. But now, researchers have found the unique algae species living in the Midwest.
"This means mainly that we don't know as much about what's out there as we could," Richard McCourt, a professor of botany at Drexel University, said in a news release. "Lychnothamnus barbatus' survival isn't, per se, ecologically earth-shaking, but it changes our view of what the algal flora of North America is composed of and inspires us to keep hunting for more new finds."
Researchers collected the algae from 14 lakes across Wisconsin. After combing the scientific record for a match, researchers confirmed the species identify using DNA analysis.
It's possible the species is invasive, having snuck across the globe in the ballast of a cargo ship.
"Other species like it have probably been brought in in ballast water on ships and released into the St. Lawrence seaway or other lakes," McCourt said.
But it's not inconceivable that the algae species has been hiding out undetected for centuries.
"If it went unnoticed, it is probably due to the fact that much of what is in lakes and streams is not thoroughly examined, despite centuries of collecting," McCourt said. "We need more feet on the ground, hands in the water, collecting."
Researchers described the discovery of the surprise species this week in the American Journal of Botany.