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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 119:253-263 (1995)  -  doi:10.3354/meps119253

Size structure and inequality in a commercial stand of the seaweed Gelidium sesquipedale

Santos, R.

The temporal dynamics of the frequency distributions of 2 measures of Gelidium sesquipedale frond size, length and weight, was investigated in a subtidal stand under commercial exploitation. Frond weight/length allometry was highly variable, both seasonally and between years, showing that in this species weight and length cannot be used interchangeably as a measure of frond size. Physical disturbances played a fundamental role in allometric variability. The loss of branches due to commercial harvest and storms reduced the slope of the log weight/log length relationship. During spring the slope increased, indicating the production and growth of lateral branches. Size differences among individuals in the population (inequality) were quantified by 3 statistics: the skewness coefficient (g1), the coefficient of variation (CV), and the Gini coefficient (G). Highly significant changes in frond length inequality, but not weight, were shown. These correspond to periods when G. sesquipedale length structure varied due to the combined effects of the demographic parameters that regulate the population (frond recruitment, survival, breakage and growth). Graphical analysis of significantly different length structures revealed that a recruitment peak of vegetatively developed fronds occurred during winter, following periods of high frond mortality and breakage caused by both human (summer harvesting) and natural (late fall storms) disturbances. During late spring and summer, the density of smaller fronds decreased due to mortality and growth into higher size classes. To assess density-dependent regulation processes, such as suppressed growth of smaller fronds and self-thinning, the time variation of both relationships, inequality/mean frond weight and biomass/density, was analysed. Inequality/mean frond weight and biomass/density values decreased from summer to winter and increased to the following summer. The increase of inequality while mean frond weight is increasing is consistent with the asymmetric competition theory on the development of crowded plant stands, and supports the hypothesis that the slower growth of smaller fronds during this period (Santos 1994; Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 107: 295-305) is due to intraspecific competition. The time trajectory of the biomass/density relationship is perpendicular to and lies above the theoretical self-thinning line. Evidence for self-thinning was thus not detected. A conceptual model for the functioning of this population is proposed. Thinning and frond breakage caused by disturbances might be keeping intraspecific competition in these G. sesquipedale crowded stands (up to 18000 fronds m-2) at low levels.

Size structure . Size hierarchy . Inequality . Gini coefficient . Skewness . Gelidium sesquipedale . Population dynamics . Self-thinning

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