TitlePhysiological snapshots reflect ecological performance of the sea palm, Postelsia palmaeformis (Phaeophycaea) across intertidal elevation and exposure gradients
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsNielsen, KJ, Blanchette, CA, Menge, B, Lubchenco, J
JournalJournal of Phycology
Type of ArticleJournal Article

Postelsia palmaeformis Ruprecht is an intertidal kelp found only on very wave-exposed rocky shores of the northeast Pacific. In areas dominated by mussels, Postelsia depends on wave-induced disturbances to complete its life-history cycle. Postelsia also recruits where mussels are absent, but not at less wave-exposed shores. Thus, physical conditions related to wave exposure limit its horizontal distribution. It is not clear what limits the vertical distribution of Postelsia. We investigated factors contributing to Postelsia's limited distribution using transplant experiments, demographic monitoring, and field fluorometry to evaluate growth and performance across gradients of tidal elevation and wave exposure. Survivorship and growth were sharply reduced at upper and wave-protected edges relative to mid-level, wave-exposed sporophytes. Reproductive output was reduced at upper and lower levels, and growth but not survivorship was lower at the lower level. Effects were independent of population of origin and were a manifestation of the environment. Maximum electron transport rates (ETRm), light saturation parameters (E-k), and maximum quantum yields (Delta F/F-m) provided insight into physiological dynamics; all were lowest at the high edge, but increased when desiccation stress was alleviated by a mock sea-spray treatment. The ETRm and E-k values of low sporophytes were not as high as the values for mid-sporophytes, despite higher or equivalent nitrogen content, chl a, and absorptance, suggesting a trade-off between light-capturing and carbon-fixation capacity. Physiological limitations at upper and lower levels and deleterious desiccation effects at wave-protected sites prevent establishment, thus constraining Postelsia to a mid-zone, wave-exposed distribution. Physical conditions related to wave exposure may limit the horizontal distribution of Postelsia because this kelp is also found in areas where mussels are lacking but not on less wave-exposed shores.

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