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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 220:137-152 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps220137

Nutrient content of macroalgae with differing morphologies may indicate sources of nutrients for tropical marine systems

Peggy Fong*, Krista Kamer**, Katharyn E. Boyer**, Karleen A. Boyle**

Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology and Evolution, University of California, Los Angeles, 621 Charles E Young Drive South, Box 951606, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606, USA
*E-mail: **Contribution of last 3 authors was equal, with order of authorship determined randomly

ABSTRACT: To investigate whether tissue N and P content of morphologically distinct macroalgae reflect different processes controlling nutrient availability, we measured water column nutrients and collected 5 species of algae for tissue N and P analysis from 18 stations along the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico. Nutrient content of sediments was also determined for a subset of stations. Southwestern Puerto Rico was chosen because the literature suggests that gradients in sediment type and organic matter content, advection, and terrestrial influence occur in this region. Stations were either inshore or offshore areas with 3 stations per area chosen a priori as High Nutrient Stations (HNS). Water column and sediment nutrient concentrations were elevated inshore and in HNS. Species were of 3 morphological forms: upright thalli with open branches, densely packed mats, and rhizophytic thalli. In the first category, Acanthophora spicifera had higher N content inshore compared to offshore while both A. spicifera and Hypnea musciformis had higher tissue N and P contents in HNS. In contrast, mat-forming algae (Dictyota dichotoma and D. cervicornis) had higher tissue N and P contents offshore compared to inshore. Although these species had high nutrients in many of the HNS, samples from some offshore reefs were equally high. Halimeda incrassata, a rhizophytic form, had greater tissue N content inshore than offshore. H. incrassata tissue nutrients were also elevated in some HNS, but not others. There were significant correlations between water column and sediment nutrients and the tissue N and P content of A. spicifera and H. incrassata, but not for either Dictyota. These results suggest algae with upright thalli and open-branching patterns may have a more direct relationship between tissue nutrient content and water column nutrient concentration than other forms. In contrast, mat-forming species may deplete nutrients within the mat, relying on strong currents found offshore to penetrate dense mats and replenish nutrients. Rhizophytic algae have access to both water column and sediment nutrients, and higher inshore tissue contents and at some HNS may reflect enhanced nutrient supplies from these sources. Our findings suggest that if other environmental factors are carefully taken into consideration, the tissue N and P content of macroalgae may prove to be an effective indicator of different nutrient sources in tropical systems.

KEY WORDS: Macroalgae · Tropics · Nutrients · Morphological forms · Puerto Rico

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