Seaweeds are amongst the most obvious and ecologically important components of rocky shore communities worldwide but until now little has been known about the processes involved in their attachment. This multidisciplinary study investigated for the first time the interactions between marine macroalgal holdfasts and their underlying substrata, requiring the development of specialized sample preparation techniques to maintain the structural integrity of the holdfast–bedrock interface. Transmitted plane polarized light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectroscopy and structured light illumination microscopy were used in the examination of the interface between Ascophyllum nodosum (Fucales, Heterokontophyta) and crustose red algae Lithothamnion sp. (Corallinales, Rhodophyta) on granite and limestone substrates. The new evidence presented here represents a paradigm shift in the way we view seaweed attachment because results show that the holdfasts exploit the physical characteristics of the rock-forming minerals in order to penetrate the bedrock and thus facilitate the attachment process. Mineral cleavage planes together with intercrystalline and intracrystalline boundaries and fractures provide penetration pathways for the holdfast tissue. This process causes disaggregation of rock-forming minerals to depths <10 mm and therefore assists in the bioerosion of coastal bedrock. It is concluded that seaweeds are able to cause weathering of natural rock and the term ‘geophycology’ is introduced to describe seaweed–bedrock interactions, including seaweed-induced weathering.
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