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Biogeography of Macrophyte Elemental Composition: Spatiotemporal Modification of Species-Level Traits

Abstract

The elemental composition of primary producers represents a potentially important pathway for linking ecosystem scale, climate-driven changes in nutrient supply to ecological processes at the population and community scales. However, such cross-scale linkages may also be dampened by conservation of species-specific differences in tissue stoichiometry. We investigated biogeographic patterns of elemental composition (%N, %C, and C:N ratio) of four ecologically dominant and functionally diverse marine intertidal macrophyte species (the brown algae Fucus distichus and Hedophyllum sessile, the red alga Mazzaella splendens, and the surfgrass Phyllospadix scouleri) along 900 km of coastline of the California Current System over a 10-year period. We used a nested hierarchical design to identify the dominant spatial and temporal scales of elemental composition variability and to test the sensitivity of macrophyte stoichiometry to changing ocean conditions in upwelling, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NPGO), and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Elemental composition was highly conserved at the species level but was also sensitive to the environment, displaying marked species-dependent responses to spatial and temporal variation in ocean conditions. Moreover, the effects of local and seasonal processes were strong and with conserved species-specific differences, likely limited coherent cross-species sensitivity to climate variability from ENSO, NPGO and PDO. Unanticipated long-term steady increases in %C and bimodal increases in %N in brown algae and similar decreases in elemental composition of the red alga generated trimodal changes in C:N for these species. These changes may reflect responses of macrophyte communities to continuing changes in carbonate chemistry from ocean acidification.

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Data Availability

Data can be found at: https://search.dataone.org/view/doi:10.6085/AA/publication_data.80.2.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Tarik Gouhier for statistical advice and for calculating the localized upwelling index used here. A. Iles, E. Gorsich, B. Beechler, E. Cerny-Chipman, and many others provided insightful feedback on early drafts of the manuscript. Many volunteers, interns, technicians, and graduate students at both OSU and SSU assisted with sample collection and processing. Those most involved in sample collection and processing included: at OSU, E. Richmond, M. Noble, G. Murphy, C. Pennington, R. Craig, M. Poole, L. Hunter, A. Johnson, J. Robinson, S. Gerrity, J. Henderson, and M. Ellis; and at SSU, A. Paquin, R. DiFiori, B. Cortina, T. Hazen, R. Francis, S. Briggs, K. Gilmore and T. Mangor. We also thank the late Susan Williams (UC Davis, Bodega Marine Laboratory) for making her algal grinder available. This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to SLC, NSF grant numbers OCE 0726983 and 1061233 to BAM, FC, KJN, and SDH, NSF grant number DEB 1050694 to BAM, endowment funds from the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation to BAM, Grants from the A. W. Mellon Foundation to BAM and Jane Lubchenco, and the David and Lucile Packard and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundations for support of the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) consortium (Publication 507).

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Correspondence to Bruce A. Menge.

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SLC, SDH, BAM, FC, and KJN conceived of and designed study; SLC, SDH, BAM, FC, and KJN performed research; SLC and BAM analyzed the data; and SLC, SDH, BAM, FC, and KJN wrote the paper.

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Close, S.L., Hacker, S.D., Menge, B.A. et al. Biogeography of Macrophyte Elemental Composition: Spatiotemporal Modification of Species-Level Traits. Ecosystems 23, 1494–1522 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-020-00484-w

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Keywords

  • C:N ratio
  • macrophytes
  • california current large marine ecosystem
  • coastal upwelling
  • El Niño-Southern Oscillation
  • Pacific decadal oscillation
  • the fucoid Fucus distichus subsp. evanescens
  • the red alga Mazzaella splendens
  • the surfgrass Phyllospadix scouleri
  • the kelp Hedophyllum sessile