• The origin of the Ectocarpus strain used for genome sequencing (the 'genome strain') was Peru, where no Ectocarpus had been reported previously. To study the genetic diversity in the region and to increase the number of individuals from this area available for genetic experiments, 119 new Ectocarpus strains were isolated from eight localities along the 3000 km of coastline from central Peru to central Chile.•Internal transcribed spacer 1 (ITS1) genotyping revealed nine different genotypes, five of which were endemic to the area studied and three of which were previously unknown.•Individuals of the same genotype as the genome strain occurred from Peru to northernmost Chile, representing 61% of the samples in this area, from which five more genotypes were isolated. Further south, down to central Chile, most individuals belonged to Ectocarpus siliculosus, Ectocarpus fasciculatus and Ectocarpus crouaniorum. In sexual crosses, the genome strain and the new isolates of the same genotype were fully compatible.•Sequences from four nuclear and cytoplasmic genetic markers (ITS1, ITS2, Rubisco spacer and Cytochrome-c oxidase subunit 3 (cox3)) separated the genome strain from the known species of Ectocarpus. It may in future be recognized as a separate species. © The Authors (2010). Journal compilation © New Phytologist Trust (2010).