The green macroalga widely known as Ulva fenestrata is an important food source for a variety of microorganisms and herbivores, especially certain polychaetes, amphipods, and crabs, along the northeastern Pacific coast. It is often attached to shells, pebbles, rocks, or pieces of wood. Although it may always start out anchored like this, in quiet bays it may float about, except when it has been left behind by a receding tide. Floating specimens tend to grow larger than those that are attached to a substrate. The blades may reach a length of 1 meter and they are often extensively perforated, especially from Oregon northward. The specific epithet "fenestrata" refers to these "windows" in the blade. (Kozloff 1993) Recent molecular studies have suggested, however, that this fenestration and other characters used to define and distinguish this species may be unreliable. These characters may simply represent natural variation within Ulva lactuca, or possibly within a complex of cryptic Ulva species (Hayden et al. 2003; Hayden 2004). Because of taxonomic confusion within the genus, it is difficult to describe geographic distributions of many Ulva species with any confidence, but many Ulva species appear to have very wide ranges (e.g., Ulva lactuca occurring in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific: Lee 1986; Hayden and Waaland 2004).
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