Encrusting algae are conspicuous components of hard-substratum benthic communities in the photic zone despite being poor competitors and slow growers. Little is known about their growth rates or about mechanisms controlling key processes such as wound healing and surviving overgrowth. We manipulated 12 crustose species (including red and brown algae and a lichen) from the intertidal zone of Washington, USA, studying their varying responses to identical experimental conditions. Three of 8 crust species tested showed increased growth rates with size. Species healed from standardized wounds at different rates and using different mechanisms (e.g. lateral vs vertical regeneration) as seen in cross-sections. Three species showed altered growth rates at unwounded margins of wounded crusts, suggesting intrathallus communication. Year-long experiments involving simulated overgrowth showed that some species can maintain healthy tissue in a covered area, and one (the coralline Lithothamnion phymatodeum) even grew new tissue there. Other species gradually lost color, thickness, and area in covered areas. Hildenbrandia occidentalis survived remarkably well when covered, possibly due to its very slow growth and low metabolic demand. One suggested mechanism underlying the high variation in responses among crusts is the degree to which their thalli may be anatomically integrated by features such as cell fusions; physiological work testing translocation via these features is needed. Other mechanisms allowing persistence include rapid wound healing and frequent recruitment.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/robert_steneck/5/