Prolonged reproductive consequences of short-term biomass loss in seaweeds
This study describes the reproductive collapse of a large giant-kelp forest (Macrocystis pyrifera; Point Loma, southern California, USA) and the dynamics of its subsequent recovery. High-frequency sampling within a 100-m2 area, combined with a 3-year reproduction time-series from four other sites over a broad depth gradient, were used to (1) quantify temporal and spatial patterns of change in size and fertility of adult sporophytes, and (2) examine physical and biological factors that regulate such changes. Giant-kelp sporophytes have the potential for continuous reproduction, yet from March to November 1999, sporophytes at the high-frequency sampling site went from completely sloughing (actively releasing zoospores) to completely sterile, despite a relatively constant biomass of sporogenous tissues. This shift to sterility was rapid, with 65% of sporophytes ceasing to slough during late-June/early-July 1999, and did not co-occur with stressful physical conditions (i.e. high temperatures, low nutrients, or high wave intensity). Instead, the cessation of reproductive output corresponded to an episodic, sublethal amphipod-grazing event that stripped blade biomass from all sporophytes. Although the grazer infestation affected the entire kelp forest, peaks in grazer abundance were localized, moving through the population during late spring and summer, and causing patchiness in sporophyte size and fertility on a scale of meters. The reproductive collapse was size-dependent, since smaller sporophytes were the first to cease sloughing. The grazing event waned in the fall and sporophyte vegetative growth rapidly recovered lost biomass (within ~2 months). Such growth, however, occurred at the expense of the production of sporogenous tissue and caused a prolonged period (>4 months) of decreased reproductive output. These results suggest a trade-off between sporophyte growth and reproduction, allowing short-term disturbances to have lasting impacts on the reproductive output of giant-kelp populations.
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