Kelp versus coralline: cellular basis for mechanical strength in the wave-swept seaweed Calliarthron (Corallinaceae, Rhodophyta)1


  • 1

    Received 11 August 2006. Accepted 17 April 2007.


Previous biomechanical studies of wave-swept macroalgae have revealed a trade-off in growth strategies to resist breakage in the intertidal zone: growing in girth versus growing strong tissues. Brown macroalgae, such as kelps, grow thick stipes but have weak tissues, while red macroalgae grow slender thalli but have much stronger tissues. For example, genicular tissue in the articulated coralline Calliarthron cheilosporioides Manza is more than an order of magnitude stronger than some kelp tissues, but genicula rarely exceed 1 mm in diameter. The great tissue strength of Calliarthron genicula results, at least in part, from a lifelong strengthening process. Here, a histological analysis is presented to explore the cellular basis for mechanical strengthening in Calliarthron genicula. Genicula are composed of thousands of fiber-like cells, whose cell walls thicken over time. Thickening of constitutive cell walls likely explains why older genicula have stronger tissues: a mature geniculum may be >50% cell wall. However, the material strength of genicular cell wall is similar to the strength of cell wall from a freshwater green alga, suggesting that it may be the quantity—not the quality—of cell wall material that gives genicular tissue its strength. Apparent differences in tissue strength across algal taxa may be a consequence of tissue construction rather than material composition.