, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 483–492 | Cite as

Sublethal stress in the intertidal zone: tidal emersion inhibits photosynthesis and retards development in embryos of the brown alga Pelvetia fastigiata

  • Ian R. Davison
  • Ladd E. Johnson
  • Susan H. Brawley
Original Papers


The effect of tidal emersion on survivorship, photosynthesis and embryonic development was studied in 8 h old zygotes and 7 d old embryos of the intertidal brown alga Pelvetia fastigiata (J. Ag.) DeToni. Zygotes and embryos were outplanted for single low tides in the intertidal zone on the central coast of California (U.S.A.) during June, 1990. Both zygotes and embryos exhibited close to 100% survival when outplanted beneath the canopy of adult P. fastigiata. Embryos (7 d old) also exhibited high survival when outplanted in a red algal turf, the microhabitat where most successful recruitment occurs. However, zygotes (8 h old) experienced high mortality (65–90%) when outplanted in the turf microhabitat. Embryos and zygotes that survived emersion experienced sub-lethal stress that temporarily impaired light-saturated photosynthesis when plants were reimmersed in seawater. The effects of sub-lethal stress were more pronounced in 8 h old zygotes than 7 d embryos, and more severe in the turf microhabitat than beneath the adult Pelvetia canopy. Zygotes outplanted in the red algal turf did not re-establish net photosynthesis until at least 6 h after re-immersion. Photosynthesis was less inhibited in 8 h old zygotes outplanted beneath the adult Pelvetia canopy, and recovered to control (non-emersed) levels within 3 h of re-immersion. Embryos (7 d old) were able to achieve positive net photosynthesis immediately on re-immersion after emersion in the turf or canopy microhabitats. Emersion also retarded the rate of embryonic development in 8 h old zygotes, delaying the formation of primary rhizoids, which help to attach the plant to the substrate. For example, at 19 h post-fertilization, 75% of control (non-emersed) zygotes had developed rhizoids, compared to 3% and 30% for zygotes outplanted in the turf and canopy microhabitats. The different emersion responses of 8 h old zygotes and 7 d old embryos appeared to be related to their ability to tolerate cellular dehydration. Overall, our data suggest that the effects of sub-lethal stresses may have been underestimated in studies of intertidal ecology.

Key words

Desiccation Fucoid Development Intertidal ecology Phaeophyta 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian R. Davison
    • 1
  • Ladd E. Johnson
    • 2
  • Susan H. Brawley
    • 3
  1. 1.University of MaineDepartment of Plant Biology and Center for Marine StudiesOronoUSA
  2. 2.NOAA/Great Lakes Environmental Research LaboratoryAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of Plant BiologyUniversity of MaineOronoUSA

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