Herbivory and the Evolution of Nongeniculate Coralline Algae (Rhodophyta, Corallinales) in the North Atlantic and North Pacific

  • R. S. Steneck
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (volume 22)


A comparison of the crustose coralline (Corallinales, Rhodophyta) floras of the Boreal eastern North Pacific (Prince William Sound, Alaska to Pt. Conception, California) and Subarctic western North Atlantic (Cape Cod, Massachusetts to the Strait of Belle Isle, Newfoundland) provides an excellent means of comparison for identifying specific adaptations to herbivory. The floras of both regions have about the same number of genera (5) and abundant species (5–7) but no species are common to both regions and a few genera are found in only one region. Only chitons, limpets and sea urchins have species known to be capable of grazing corallines in these regions. The diversity of these coralline-grazers is greater in the Pacific Northwest (13 spp. total, 8 important) compared to the North Atlantic (4 spp. total, 2 important). Only the sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, is found in both regions.

Given the apparent taxonomic dissimilarity between the two regions, the anatomical and morphological characteristics found under specific herbivore regimes of grazing frequency and grazing intensity are remarkably similar. In both regions, habitats having no coralline-grazers are dominated by corallines having thin unbranched thalli (i.e., without protuberances or excrescences), and raised conceptacles. Habitats having frequent low-intensity grazing from limpets or chitons are often dominated by thicker forms occasionally having a multi-layered epithallus. In regions where the most intense grazing is from sea urchins, the coralline flora is often dominated by plants having stout protuberances (excrescences), raised conceptacles and a single layered epithallus. Manipulative experiments demonstrate the adaptive nature of these characteristics. Such anatomical and morphological similarities corresponding to the specific herbivore environment suggest that herbivory is a powerful selective force in the evolution of corallines and possibly responsible for the apparent convergent evolution of these cold-water floras.


Grazing Intensity Crustose Coralline Alga Coralline Alga Bite Mark Herbivore Biomass 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. S. Steneck
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Darling Marine CenterUniversity of MaineWalpoleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Oceanography, Darling Marine CenterUniversity of MaineWalpoleUSA

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