Tissue type matters: Selective herbivory on different life history stages of an isomorphic alga

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Selective grazing by herbivores can have large effects on the population dynamics and community structure of primary producers. However, the ecological impacts of within-species herbivore preference for tissues of different phases (e.g., ploidy levels) or reproductive status remain relatively poorly known, especially among algae and other species with free-living haploid (gametophyte) and diploid (sporophyte) phases. We tested for herbivore selectivity among tissue types of the isomorphic (identical haploid and diploid free-living stages) red alga Mazzaella flaccida. Laboratory feeding assays demonstrated that the snail Tegula funebralis exhibited more than a threefold preference for gametophyte reproductive tissue over other tissue types, due to morphological differences. In contrast, the urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus did not distinguish as clearly between gametophytes and sporophytes; but it did prefer sporophyte reproductive to nonreproductive tissue, due to differences in water-soluble chemicals. Field surveys of grazer damage on M. flaccida blades were consistent with these laboratory preferences, with more damage found on gametophytes than sporophytes and reproductive than nonreproductive tissues. Differential fecundity can contribute to a skew in relative frequencies of phases in the field, and our results suggest that differential grazing by snails may contribute to this pattern and thus play a role in algal population biology. © 2006 by the Ecological Society of America.

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