Physiological performance of intertidal coralline algae during a simulated tidal cycle



Intertidal macroalgae endure light, desiccation, and temperature variation associated with sub-merged and emerged conditions on a daily basis. Physiological stresses exist over the course of the entire tidal cycle, and physiological differences in response to these stresses likely contribute to spatial separation of species along the shore. For example, marine species that have a high stress tolerance can live higher on the shore and are able to recover when the tide returns, whereas species with a lower stress tolerance may be relegated to living lower on the shore or in tidepools, where low tide stresses are buffered. In this study, we monitored the physiological responses of the tidepool coralline Calliarthron tuberculosum (Postels and Ruprecht) E.Y. Dawson and the nontidepool coralline Corallina vancouveriensis Yendo during simulated tidal conditions to identify differences in physiology that might underlie differences in habitat. During high tide, Corallina was more photosynthetically active than Calliarthron as light levels increased. During low tide, Corallina continued to out-perform Calliarthron when submerged in warming tidepools, but photosynthesis abruptly halted for both species when emerged in air. Surprisingly, pigment composition did not differ, suggesting that light harvesting does not account for this difference. Additionally, Corallina was more effective at resisting desiccation by retaining water in its branches. When the tide returned, only Corallina recovered from combined temperature and desiccation stresses associated with emergence. This study broadens our understanding of intertidal algal physiology and provides a new perspective on the physiological and morphological underpinnings of habitat partitioning.