Patterns of reproductive traits of fucoid species in core and marginal populations

Fucoid macroalgae are important primary producers and habitat modifiers on North Atlantic intertidal rocky shores. With decreasing latitude, western European fucoid populations display reduced levels of abundance, biomass and recruitment, while experiencing higher levels of physical environmental stress during summer months. We hypothesized that such reduction in the south is accompanied by a detectable decline in fucoid reproductive capacity. To test this hypothesis, morphological and reproductive traits of core (Welsh) and marginal (Portuguese) populations of two common fucoid species, Fucus vesiculosus and F. spiralis (Ochrophyta, Fucales), were examined. Morphological measurements showed that for a given thallus length, both fucoid species had smaller thallus volume and lower biomass in the southerly marginal part of the range. Significantly lower biomass of reproductive tissue of F. vesiculosus and a smaller number of receptacles per individual on specimens of both species indicate that levels of reproductive output are probably lower in southern populations. Despite the differences in reproductive traits observed between regions, reproductive effort (measured as the percentage of total dry biomass represented by reproductive tissue) of both species remained similar, as algae from both regions made similar investments in reproduction. The results indicate that stressful conditions reduced growth and number of receptacles of both species and amount of reproductive biomass of F. vesiculosus in the south but do not seem to change the way these algal species invest their energy. The decline in mass and reproductive biomass of specimens from southern shores found in this study, when combined with the lower abundance of adults and lower recruitment levels previously observed, is a strong indication of fucoid populations with lower levels of propagule output. This is an important factor when considering responses of these populations to a changing environment.