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Robustness in life history of the brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum (Fucales, Phaeophyceae) across large scales: effects of spatially and temporally induced variability on population growth

Journal article
Authors Carl Johan Svensson
Henrik Pavia
Per Åberg
Published in Marine Biology
Volume 156
Issue 6
Pages 1139-1148
ISSN 0025-3162
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Marine Ecology, Tjärnö Marine Biological Laboratory
Department of Marine Ecology
Pages 1139-1148
Language en
Subject categories Ecology, Marine ecology, Biological Sciences


Understanding the demography and function of biotope-forming seaweed species is of great importance for the conservation of the target species itself, as well as its associated organisms. The brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum is fundamental for the functioning of coastal marine ecosystems in the North Atlantic. In this study, we use a data-based size-classified matrix model to investigate the temporal and spatial variability in demography, and the environment-specific stochastic sensitivity and elasticity, of two A. nodosum populations, one in western Sweden and one on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. A significant difference between the two populations was that the Swedish population had comparably low and more variable stochastic population growth rate (ks ). This pattern was partly explained by the relatively high and varying mortality rates during extreme ice-years in Sweden, and by the lower survival of small individuals during all years. There were also fewer large individuals in Sweden due to lower transitions to the larger size-classes and higher probability of shrinkage. Sensitivities were analogous in the two populations, and showed a high selection pressure for increased individual growth. Elasticities were also similar, with the exception that survival of the smallest individuals (i.e., transition a1,1 ), had a higher elasticity on the Isle of Man. Overall, the stochastic growth rate (ks ) was most sensitive to proportional changes in loop- (i.e., survival within size-class) and, to some extent, growth-transitions in both study areas. These results show that structurally and demographically diverging A. nodosum populations may be similarly sensitive to changes in vital rates. This, in turn, indicates a plastic life history of A. nodosum that may cope with large environmental variability. The results further suggest that environmental change affecting the survival or growth of the larger, reproductive A. nodosum individuals could have severe and regional effects on the abundance and biomass of this species, with potential negative effects on the biodiversity of the associated communities.

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