Flow, flapping, and photosynthesis ofNereocystis leutkeana: a functional comparison of undulate and flat blade morphologies

Research paper by M. A. R. Koehl, R. S. Alberte

Indexed on: 01 Oct '88Published on: 01 Oct '88Published in: Marine Biology


A number of species of macroalagae possess a flat, strap-like blade morphology in habitats exposed to rapidly-moving water whereas those at protected sites have a wider, undulate blade shape. We have explored the functional consequences of flat, narrow vs. wide, undulate blade morphologies in the giant bull kelpNereocystis luetkeana. Our study focused on the behavior of blades in ambient water currents and the consequences of that behavior to breakage and to photosynthesis. In flowing water, the narrow, flat blades flap with lower amplitude and collapse together into a more streamlined bundle than do wide, undulate blades, and hence experience lower drag per blade area at a given flow velocity. If the algae at current-swept sites had ruffled blades, drag forces would sometimes be sufficient to break the stipes. However, flat blades in a streamlined bundle experience more self-shading than do undulate blades, which remain spread out in water currents. Thus, there is a morphological trade-off between reducing drag and reducing self-shading. Photosynthetic14C-HCO3 uptake rates decrease in slow flow when the boundary layer along the blade surface across which diffusion takes place is relatively thick. However, blade flapping, which stirs water near the blade surface, enhances carbon uptake rates in slow water currents for both the undulate and the flat morphologies.