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Simple Classification of Algae

Updated on January 12, 2018
Green algae
Green algae
Red algae
Red algae
Brown algae
Brown algae

Algae my seem to be a simple subject on the surface but when you get down to classifying it, it can get downright confusing. It can be much less confusing when you break them down with easier to determine characteristics. Since a lot goes into classifying the numerous types of categories a good idea would be to break it down into the two main groups. The two characteristic groups to be used here will be color and cellular makeup. Algae and its most obvious characteristics can be typically found in algae’s main color groups and the less obvious and more complex cellular groups. Algae can also be classified into Kingdoms and Genus and several other subgroups as well, based off of the two main characteristic groups and many other factors most of those classification groups won’t even be touched on here.

Color is probably the easiest way to characterize different types of algae. Algae can form into main color groups. Green algae, which is also the most common color, is a very diverse type of algae. It can be found all over the world. Many of the green algae family are motile due to flagella, which are like tiny little flaps to get them moving. The most famous type of green algae that actually maintains its green color, though not always, would be seaweed.

Then there are the brown algae, which include kelp. Brown algae typically attach to coral in temperate or tropical climates. They can be especially abundant in the areas around Australia and New Zealand. Although some cultures eat certain types of brown algae it appears that they may be becoming a nuisance to certain types of coral in the Carribean region. Sometimes the golden-brown and brown algae are put together in the same group. While they can have many differences there are also some striking similarities. This is what causes these two color groups to be pieced together often. They also share the same types of algae just with slightly different coloration and different ways to reproduce as well.

Finally we have the red or fire algae. Red algae has over five-thousand species which makes it one of the largest phyla of algae. When you hear someone discussing red slime algae this is what they are talking about. Fire algae is a very old species of algae dating back some three billion years. Red algae may also be one of the most important things on our planet. It creates copious amounts of oxygen and there are even some theories that claim if this red slime algae didn’t exist the skies might not be blue.

Now we can look at the other main characteristic used to classify algae. This other main characteristic is in how its cells are made up and sometimes how many they have. You can have unicellular algae which is a single-celled organism that lives alone. This type of algae contains chlorophyll and uses photosynthesis for energy. The unicellular algae also consists of these four phyla: euglenophytes, chrysophytes, diatoms, and dinoflagellates. Next you have the colonial algae which are individual cells, such as the unicellular algae, who are capable of living alone but who decide to form a cluster or colony. This is what happens when you see large sections of algae on top of the water. There is also the filamentous algae. Filamentous algae are long chains of identical, or nearly identical, cells who can live separately but form a group anyways. This normally comes out looking something like the stringy seaweed that we are used to seeing. Now last, but not least, we have the multicellular algae. These can be simple with like cells or they can be complex with specialized cells. However, each multicellular algae, is as it says in its name, made up of more than one cell and typically made up of many cells.

These two main groups and there numerous sub-groups can be found scattered through different kingdoms of the plant and animal world. The classification used for those that are found mostly in fresh water, can move using flagella, and gets its energy using photosynthesis are classified into the EuglenozoaKingdom. Members of the brown algae species tend to fall into the StramenopilaKingdom. While ciliates and dinoflagellates fall into the AlveolataKingdom. The green algae clan is most often classified into the Plantae Kingdom since they are the most similar to your typical definition of a plant.

Now you have learned that while algae may seem simple at first sight the classification process is far from simplistic. What was discussed here is just scratching the surface of the fascinating and complex world of algae. These are just the basics involved in deciding how and where to classify algae into different categories, families, phyla, genus, and kingdoms.

Awesome Algae Facts


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    • Jorge Cruz99 profile image

      Jorge Cruz 

      3 years ago from Canada


      Do the algae used for food (particularly in Asia) have some anatomical characteristics in common?


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