• axis differentiation;
  • coalescence;
  • Gracilaria;
  • growth after fusion;
  • interindividual fusions;
  • marginal meristem;
  • Mazzaella

Size increments following interindividual fusions appear as a general benefit for organisms, such as coalescing seaweeds and modular invertebrates, with the capacity to fuse with conspecifics. Using sporelings of the red algae Gracilaria chilensis C. J. Bird, McLachlan et E. C. Oliveira and Mazzaella laminarioides (Bory) Fredericq, we measured the growth patterns of sporelings built with different numbers of spores, and the magnitude and persistence of the size increments gained by fusions. Then we studied three morphological processes that could help explain the observed growth patterns. Results indicate that in these algae, coalescence is followed by immediate increase in total size of the coalesced individual and that the increment is proportional to the number of individuals fusing. However, the size increments in sporelings of both species do not last >60 d. Increasing reductions of marginal meristematic cells and increasing abundance of necrotic cells in sporelings built with increasing numbers of initial spores are partial explanations for the above growth patterns. Since sporelings formed by many spores differentiate erect axes earlier and in larger quantities than sporelings formed by one or only a few spores, differentiation, emergence, and growth of erect axes appear as a more likely explanation for the slow radial growth of the multisporic sporelings. Erect axis differentiation involves significant morphological and physiological changes and a shift from radial to axial growth. It is concluded that the growth pattern exhibited by these macroalgae after fusion differs from equivalent processes described for other organisms with the capacity to fuse, such as modular invertebrates.