Variation in the morphology, reproduction and development of the habitat-forming kelp Ecklonia radiata with changing temperature and nutrients

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Journal Article
Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2013, 483 pp. 117 - 131
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Increasing ocean temperatures are a threat to kelp forests in several regions of the world. In this study, we examined how changes in ocean temperature and associated nitrate concentrations driven by the strengthening of the East Australian Current (EAC) will influence the morphology, reproduction and development of the widespread kelp Ecklonia radiata in southeastern Australia. E. radiata morphology and reproduction were examined at sites in New South Wales (NSW) and Tasmania, where sea surface temperature differs by ~5°C, and a laboratory experiment was conducted to test the interactive effects of temperature and nutrients on E. radiata development. E. radiata size and amount of reproductive tissue were generally greater in the cooler waters of Tasmania compared to NSW. Importantly, one morphological trait (lamina length) was a strong predictor of the amount of reproductive tissue, suggesting that morphological changes in response to increased temperature may influence reproductive capacity in E. radiata. Growth of gametophytes was optimum between 15 and 22°C and decreased by >50% above 22°C. Microscopic sporophytes were also largest between 15 and 22°C, but no sporophytes developed above 22°C, highlighting a potentially critical upper temperature threshold for E. radiata in Tasmania. Lower nitrate concentration had no effect on E. radiata gametophytes and sporophytes. Given forecast increases in ocean temperature of between 2 and 3°C in southeastern Australia by 2100, these findings suggest that E. radiata is likely to be affected by a strengthening EAC and highlight the susceptibility of the development and growth of early life-cycle stages to these changes. © Inter-Research 2013.
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