• ecotypes;
  • geographic variation;
  • growth;
  • kelp;
  • Macrocystis;
  • nitrate;
  • nutrients;
  • Phaeophyta


Three geographically isolated populations of the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera (L.) C. Ag., were examined for responses to nitrate availability in batch culture experiments using juvenile sporophytes reared from spores in the laboratory. Although maximum rates of nitrate-saturated growth were similar among groups, there were significant quantitative differences in the response to nitrate limitation that can be related to natural patterns of nutrient availability at these sites. Plants from Santa Catalina Island (most oligotrophic) achieved maximum growth rates at ambient nitrate concentrations that were lower than those for plants from Monterey Bay, California (most eutrophic), or Refugio State Beach (near Santa Barbara, California). Tissue nitrogen and amino acid concentrations were highest in plants cultured from Santa Catalina Island populations at all external nitrate concentrations, suggesting that differences in nitrate requirements for growth may reflect the efficiency of nitrate uptake and assimilation at subsaturating nitrate concentrations. Given the different physical environments from which these plants came, the data suggest that geographically isolated populations of M. pyrifera have undergone genetic divergence that can be explained by ecotypic adaptation to unique habitat conditions at these sites.