Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 199–241 | Cite as

Relative importance of temperature and other factors in determining geographic boundaries of seaweeds: Experimental and phenological evidence

  • A. M. Breeman


Experimentally determined ranges of thermal tolerance and requirements for completion of the life history of some 60 seaweed species from the North Atlantic Ocean were compared with annual temperature regimes at their geographic boundaries. In all but a few species, thermal responses accounted for the location of boundaries. Distribution was restricted by: (a) lethal effects of high or low temperatures preventing survival of the hardiest life history stage (often microthalli), (b) temperature requirements for completion of the life history operating on any one process (i.e. [sexual] reproduction, formation of macrothalli or blades), (c) temperature requirements for the increase of population size (through growth or the formation of asexual propagules). Optimum growth/reproduction temperatures or lethal limits of the non-hardiest stage (often macrothalli) were irrelevant in explaining distribution. In some species, ecotypic differentiation in thermal responses over the distribution range influenced the location of geographic boundaries, but in many other species no such ecotypic differences were evident. Specific daylength requirements affected the location of boundaries only when interacting with temperature. The following types of thermal responses could be recognised, resulting in characteristic distribution patterns: (A) Species endemic to the (warm) temperate eastern Atlantic had narrow survival ranges (between ca 5 and ca 25°C) preventing occurrence in NE America. In species with isomorphic life histories without very specific temperature requirements for reproduction, northern and southern boundaries in Eur/Africa are set by lethal limits. Species with heteromorphic life histories often required high and/or low temperatures to induce reproduction in one or both life history phases which further restricted distribution. (B) Species endemic to the tropical western Atlantic also had narrow survival ranges (between ca 10 and ca 35°C). Northern boundaries are set by low, lethal winter temperatures. Thermal properties would potentially allow occurrence in the (sub) tropical eastern Atlantic, but the ocean must have formed a barrier to dispersal. No experimental evidence is so far available for tropical species with an amphi-Atlantic distribution. (C) Tropical to temperate species endemic to the western Atlantic had broad survival ranges (<0 to ca 35°C). Northern boundaries are set by low summer temperatures preventing (growth and) reproduction. Thermal properties would permit occurrence in the (sub)tropical eastern Atlantic, but along potential “stepping stones” for dispersal in the northern Atlantic (Greenland, Iceland, NW Europe) summer temperatures would be too low for growth. (D) In most amphi-Atlantic (tropical-) temperate species, northern boundaries are set by low summer temperatures preventing reproduction or the increase of population size. On European shores, species generally extended into regions with slightly lower summer temperatures than in America, probably because milder winters allow survival of a larger part of the population. (E) Amphi-Atlantic (Arctic-) temperate species survived at subzero temperatures. In species with isomorphic life histories not specifically requiring low temperatures for reproduction, southern boundaries are set by lethally high summer temperatures on both sides of the Atlantic. None of the species survived temperatures over 30°C which prevents tropical occurrence. Species with these thermal responses are characterized by distribution patterns in which southern boundaries in Eur/Africa lie further south than those in eastern N America because of cooler summers. In most species with heteromorphic life histories (or crustose and erect growth forms), low temperatures were required for formation of the macrothalli (either directly or through the induction of sexual reproduction). These species have composite southern boundaries in the north Atlantic Ocean. On American coasts, boundaries are set by lethally high summer temperatures, on European coasts by winter temperatures too high for the induction of macrothalli. Species with this type of thermal responses are characterized by distribution patterns in which the boundaries in Eur/Africa lie further north than those in eastern N America because of warmer winters.

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Copyright information

© Biologische Anstalt Helgoland 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. M. Breeman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Marine Biology, Biological CentreRijksuniversiteit GroningenHaren (Gn)The Netherlands

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