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Keywords:

  • delayed development;
  • delayed reproduction;
  • gametophyte longevity;
  • kelp gametophytes;
  • Laminaria farlowii;
  • Macrocystis pyrifera;
  • nutrients;
  • Pelagophycus porra;
  • Pterygophora californica;
  • rapid sporophyte recruitment

Recent work suggests that the ability to delay reproduction as resistant haploid gametophytes may be important for seaweeds that experience unpredictable disturbances or seasonal periods of poor conditions that result in adult sporophyte absence. Further, delayed gametophytes of some kelp species (order Laminariales) may produce sporophytes more rapidly than if they had never experienced a delay, conferring a competitive advantage when conditions improve or after disturbance events. Here, it was determined that the gametophytes of the canopy-forming kelp Macrocystis pyrifera (L.) C. Agardh could delay reproduction in a one- to two-cell state (<50 μm) for at least 7 months when grown under nutrient-limiting conditions. These stages retained reproductive viability and produced sporophytes within 5 d once nutrients were increased. This finding suggests that gametophytes could potentially promote recovery of M. pyrifera populations after extended periods of sporophyte absence. In addition, the time required for sporophyte production between gametophytes of the four most conspicuous kelp species in Southern California that had delayed reproduction and gametophytes that had not was compared. For these four kelp species, a delay of at least 30 d conferred a 40%–76% reduction in the time required for sporophyte production once nutrients were received. Fecundity did not decrease with delay duration, suggesting there is no apparent cost of delayed development for kelps as has been observed in other organisms. Thus, delayed development may be a viable strategy for surviving and initially dominating in environments with variable quality.