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Keywords:

  • Caribbean;
  • Caulerpa;
  • clonal;
  • growth form;
  • photosynthesis

Morphological and photosynthetic performance were analyzed in species of the genus Caulerpa from an exposed coral reef and a sheltered reef lagoon. Morphological characters, such as distance between modules, number of modules, stolon branches and rhizoid clusters per centimeter of stolon, indicated a uniformity among species within a specific habitat. “Guerilla,” or diffusive, growth forms were characteristic for lagoon species and “phalanx,” or compact, growth forms for reef species. Differences in photosynthesis were found between Caulerpa species. Sun-tolerant species were found on the reef, and both sun- and shade-tolerant species were present in the lagoon. In the lagoon, shade-tolerant species, such as C. lanuginosa J. Agardh, were found growing in the understory, and sun-tolerant species, such as C. paspaloides (Bory) Greville, formed the canopy. C. cupressoides (West in Vahl) C. Agardh was the only species found in both environments; it showed higher photosynthetic rates and a compressed morphology when growing on the reef and lower photosynthetic rates and expanded morphology for lagoonal ramets. These results suggest that C. cupressoides possesses a broad phenotypic ability to acclimate to lagoonal and reef settings in comparison to other Caulerpa species, enhancing its ecological success in this particular system.