MEPS - Vol. 338 - Feature article

Wave action on rocky shores imposes mechanical forces that limit the size, and influence the life-history strategies, of flexible organisms living there. Photo: Luke Miller

Wolcott BD

 

Mechanical size limitation and life-history strategy of an intertidal seaweed

 

Ocean waves are an important ecological disturbance on rocky shores. Flexible organisms are often dislodged from rocks as they are jerked back and forth by the surf. Does wave-induced mortality place a limit on the body size of organisms on exposed shores? If so, how does this influence the life-history strategy of affected species? Computer simulations and field observations of Pelvetiopsis limitata, an intertidal seaweed, demonstrate a mechanical limit to size; the flexibility of this seaweed increases the hydrodynamic forces it experiences. To maximize reproductive output, P. limitata grows large during the summer, when surf is weak, and releases its gametes before the probability of dislodgement increases in winter, when waves are larger.

 

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