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  • This record described kelp growth and ecophysiological data relevant to the thermal tolerance of specific warm-tolerant and 'normal' family-lines of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) from Tasmania, Australia. For habitat restoration to be effective, the cause of habitat decline must be understood and overcome. But this is problematic when climate change is driving habitat loss, since it cannot be reversed or ameliorated prior to restoration. A previous NESP project, led by this team, identified warmwater-tolerant strains of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) from remnant patches in eastern Tasmania, where the species has experienced severe declines over the past half-century due to climate change and ocean-warming. While these strains have high potential to assist with ‘future-proofing’ of kelp forest restoration activities, it is still unclear what the physiological mechanisms are that provide their improved thermal tolerance. Here we cultivated the warm-tolerant giant kelp strains, along with giant kelp strains of normal tolerance, at both cool (16 °C) and warm temperatures (20 °C). We then harvested the juvenile kelp, and examined a suite of physiological traits that may be responsible for their differences in thermal tolerance, including nutrient usage (carbon and nitrogen content), cellular membrane processes (fatty acid contents), and photosynthesis (PAM fluorometry and photosynthetic pigments). The cultivation trials again illustrated the improved ability of the warm-tolerant strains to develop at stressful warm temperatures relative to normal giant kelp. For the first time, we also demonstrate that their improved thermal performance may extend to the development and fertilisation of the earlier kelp ‘gametophyte’ life-stage. Despite the clear differences in growth between the two test groups, the physiological assessments illustrated a complex pattern of responses, some of which are contrary to expected based on prior knowledge of thermal performance in kelps. Nonetheless, our results indicate that the warm-tolerant strains of giant kelp have a greater capacity to alter the composition of their fatty acids and may be more efficient users of nitrogen (a key nutrient for growth and development). This new information will help inform ongoing kelp breeding and selection programs for future-proofing kelp restoration in Australia and globally. This improved understanding of the physiology of kelp thermal tolerance might also help with identifying individuals and populations of Macrocystis, and other kelps, that may be resilient to (or especially threatened by) ocean warming and climate change.

  • The phenotypic plasticity of habitat-forming seaweeds was investigated with a transplant experiment in which juvenile Ecklonia radiata and Phyllospora comosa were transplanted from NSW (warm conditions) to Tasmania (cool conditions) and monitored for four months. We used multiple performance indicators (growth, photosynthetic characteristics, pigment content, chemical composition, stable isotopes, nucleic acids) to assess the ecophysiology of seaweeds before and following transplantation between February 2012 and June 2012.

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    Seasonal patterns in the in situ ecophysiology of the common habitat-forming seaweeds Ecklonia radiata, Phyllospora comosa, and Macrocystis pyrifera were investigated at different latitudes and depths in southeastern Australia. We used multiple performance indicators (photosynthetic characteristics, pigment content, chemical composition, stable isotopes, nucleic acids) to assess the ecophysiology of seaweeds near the northern and southern margins of their range, along a depth gradient (E. radiata only), over a two year period (September 2010 – August 2012).