Ecological Studies Volume 219, 2012, pp 265-291
Date: 27 Apr 2012

Seaweeds and Their Communities in Polar Regions

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Polar seaweeds typically begin to grow in late winter–spring, around the time of sea-ice breakup. They can grow under very low light enabling distributions to depths of 40 m. Moreover, they are physiologically adapted to low temperatures. Intertidal species exhibit a remarkable stress tolerance against freezing, desiccation, and salinity changes. Endemism is much greater in the Antarctic compared to the Arctic species. On rocky shores of the Antarctic Peninsula and of Spitsbergen >80% of the bottom can be covered by seaweeds with standing biomass levels 20 kg wet wt m2. Species richness and biomass declines, however, toward higher latitudes. Seaweeds are the dominant organisms in coastal waters and thus play important roles in benthic food webs and are likely to be of particular importance to benthic detrital food chains. Chemical defenses against herbivores are common in Antarctic, but not in Arctic seaweeds. More research is needed especially to study the effects of global climate changes.