Environmental correlates of phenotypic variation: do variable tidal regimes influence morphology in intertidal seaweeds?
Mueller, R and Fischer, AM and Bolch, CJS and Wright, JT, Environmental correlates of phenotypic variation: do variable tidal regimes influence morphology in intertidal seaweeds?, Journal of Phycology, 51, (5) pp. 859-871. ISSN 0022-3646 (2015) [Refereed Article]
Seaweed morphology is often shaped by the hydrodynamic environment. However, exposure to air at low tide represents an additional factor potentially affecting the morphology of intertidal species. Here, we examined the relationships between the morphology of Hormosira banksii, an important intertidal habitat-forming seaweed in southern Australia, and environmental factors across multiple spatial scales around the island of Tasmania, Australia. Tasmania is surrounded by a diverse coastline with differences in wave exposure, tidal parameters, and temperature. We sampled Hormosira from four regions (100sákm apart), three sites (10sákm apart) within each region, and two zones (meters apart; eulittoral and sublittoral) at each site, and measured multiple morphological variables to test for differences in morphology at those different spatial scales. Thirteen environmental variables reflecting wave exposure, tidal conditions, and temperature for each site were generated to assess the relationship between Hormosira morphology and environmental variation. Morphology varied at all spatial scales examined. Most notably, north coast individuals had a distinct morphology, generally having smaller vesicles and shorter fronds, compared to other regions. Tidal conditions were the main environmental factors separating north coast sites from other sites and tidal regime was identified as the best predictor of morphological differences between regions. In contrast to other studies, we found little evidence that wave exposure was associated with morphological variation. Overall, our study emphasizes the role of tidal conditions, associated with emersion stress during low tide, in affecting the morphology of intertidal seaweeds.