Vegetative reproduction by multicellular propagules in Rhodophyta: an overview


Antonella Petrocelli, Institute for the Marine Coastal Environment (IAMC) – CNR, Talassografico ‘A. Cerruti’, Taranto, Italy.


This paper deals with vegetative reproduction by multicellular propagules in Rhodophyta. An extensive examination of the relevant literature shows that this phenomenon in Rhodophyta is not well known. A propagule is here defined as a vegetative multicellular structure which spontaneously detaches from the parent thallus and gives rise to a new individual. The origin and morphological features of multicellular propagules are examined in the various known propagule-forming species. The importance of multicellular propagules as both overwintering and resting organs and as a taxonomic feature is also shown. Their role in increasing local populations and/or for long-distance dispersal is discussed. The relative abundance of vegetative reproduction by multicellular propagules versus sexual reproduction, as well as the advantages of this additional mode of reproduction, are shown and discussed. The production of multicellular propagules may contribute to the capacity of species to increase populations, to weather unpredictable environmental changes, to survive in conditions that would be lethal for entire thalli, and to reach new habitats. As resting organs, they may also be responsible for long-distance dispersal and may account for the introduction of some alien species. Accordingly, propagule-forming species are probably more competitive than taxa that do not produce such propagules. These considerations should be taken into account in future studies of the biology, ecology and demography of Rhodophyta.