ROLE OF SURFACE WOUNDS AND BROWN ALGAL EPIPHYTES IN THE COLONIZATION OF ASCOPHYLLUM NODOSUM (PHAEOPHYCEAE) FRONDS BY VERTEBRATA LANOSA (RHODOPHYTA)1

Authors


  • 1

    Received 12 August 2008. Accepted 28 January 2009.

Abstract

Ascophyllum nodosum (L.) Le Jol. forms extensive beds in wave-sheltered, rocky intertidal habitats on the northwestern Atlantic coast. This fucoid seaweed is host to an obligate red algal epiphyte, Vertebrata lanosa (L.) T. A. Chr. [=Polysiphonia lanosa (L.) Tandy], and two facultative brown algal epiphytes, Elachista fucicola (Velley) Aresch. and Pylaiella littoralis (L.) Kjellm. Although V. lanosa can occur throughout most of the length of host fronds, it largely predominates in midfrond segments. The two brown algal epiphytes are restricted to distal segments. Through field experiments conducted in Nova Scotia, Canada, we tested the hypothesis that surface wounds are required for the colonization of distal segments of host fronds by V. lanosa. Distal tissues normally have a smooth surface because of their young age (A. nodosum fronds grow apically). By creating small wounds that mimicked grazing wounds distributed elsewhere on host fronds, we demonstrated that V. lanosa can colonize distal frond segments during the growth and reproductive season (summer and autumn). Approximately half of the artificial wounds were colonized by V. lanosa during this time. The experimental exclusion of both brown algal epiphytes from distal frond segments did not affect colonization by V. lanosa. Thus, we conclude that the absence of surface irregularities on distal segments of host fronds, specifically small wounds, is the main factor explaining the absence of V. lanosa there. We propose that further experimental work clarifying epiphyte distribution in host beds will enhance our ability to understand the functional role of epiphytes in intertidal ecosystems.

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