Thermal moderation of the intertidal zone by seaweed canopies in winter
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Canopy-forming seaweeds are important foundation species or ecosystem engineers in intertidal habitats. By limiting a variety of abiotic stresses during low tides, algal canopies improve the performance of many understory organisms. The reduction of heat stress through substrate shading and moisture retention has received considerable attention in marine biology. However, the thermal influence of canopies during winter has not been empirically evaluated. Using intertidal fucoid canopies (Ascophyllum nodosum) from Atlantic Canada, we did a field experiment contrasting canopy-covered and no-canopy areas to test the hypothesis that canopies limit low temperatures during winter low tides. During 35 days between January and March, mid-intertidal temperature was often negative near the time of the lowest daily tides, on average more than 1 °C lower on bare substrate than under full canopy cover. The difference between both canopy treatments was higher around spring tides than around neap tides. Temperature on bare substrate was once even up to 10 °C lower than under a full canopy. Previous studies have shown that single occurrences of lethal negative temperatures and frequent occurrences of sublethal temperatures kill intertidal organisms every winter. Thus, our study suggests that, in addition to their bioprotective role during summer, canopy-forming seaweeds might also play a relevant facilitative role during winter.
We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
This project was funded by grants awarded to Ricardo A. Scrosati by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Discovery Grant #311624), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (Leaders Opportunity Grant #202034), and the Canada Research Chairs program (CRC Grant #210283) and by a postdoctoral fellowship (#91617093) awarded to Julius A. Ellrich by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
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