, Volume 182, Issue 2, pp 397–404 | Cite as

Blade life span, structural investment, and nutrient allocation in giant kelp

  • Gabriel E. Rodriguez
  • Daniel C. Reed
  • Sally J. Holbrook
Physiological ecology – original research


The turnover of plant biomass largely determines the amount of energy flowing through an ecosystem and understanding the processes that regulate turnover has been of interest to ecologists for decades. Leaf life span theory has proven useful in explaining patterns of leaf turnover in relation to resource availability, but the predictions of this theory have not been tested for macroalgae. We measured blade life span, size, thickness, nitrogen content, pigment content, and maximum photosynthetic rate (P max) in the giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) along a strong resource (light) gradient to test whether the predictions of leaf life span theory applied to this alga. We found that shorter blade life spans and larger blade areas were associated with increased light availability. In addition, nitrogen and P max decreased with blade age, and their decrease was greater in shorter lived blades. These observations are generally consistent with patterns observed for higher plants and the prevailing theory of leaf life span. By contrast, variation observed in pigments of giant kelp was inconsistent with that predicted by leaf life span theory, as blades growing in the most heavily shaded portion of the forest had the lowest chlorophyll content. This result may reflect the dual role of macroalgal blades in carbon fixation and nutrient absorption and the ability of giant kelp to modify blade physiology to optimize the acquisition of light and nutrients. Thus, the marine environment may place demands on resource acquisition and allocation that have not been previously considered with respect to leaf life span optimization.


Leaf life span Macroalgae Macrocystis pyrifera Photosynthesis Resource allocation 



We thank E. Barba, J. Mandoske, and P. Salinas-Ruiz for help in data collection and S. Harrer and C. Nelson for technical and logistical assistance. Financial support was provided by the US National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research program (OCE-0620276, OCE-1232779).

Author contribution statement

GER, DCR, and SJH conceived and designed the experiments. GER performed the experiments. GER and DCR analyzed the data. GER wrote the manuscript and DCR and SJH provided editorial advice.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine BiologyUniversity of California Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Marine Science InstituteUniversity of California Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

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