The effect of nutrient enrichment on the growth, nucleic acid concentrations, and elemental stoichiometry of coral reef macroalgae

Ruth Reef, John M. Pandolfi, Catherine E. Lovelock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The growth rate hypothesis (GRH) links growth rates with organism elemental stoichiometry. Support for the GRH was found for many animal species, but less so for plants. This is the first study to test the GRH in macroalgae. Tropical coral reef macroalgae from three lineages, Caulerpa serrulata (Chlorophyta), Laurencia intricata (Rhodophyta), and Sargassum polyphyllum (Phaeophyceae) were grown enriched with nitrogen or phosphorous and under control conditions at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Growth rate, photosynthesis, nucleic acid composition, and elemental stoichiometry were measured. Nutrient enrichment had positive effects on photosynthetic rates and on investment in RNA. However, growth rate was not correlated with either photosynthetic rates or RNA content; thus, we did not find support for the GRH in tropical macroalgae. Macroalgae, especially L. intricata, accumulated P to very high levels (>0.6% of dry weight). The growth rate response to tissue P concentrations was unimodal. Above 0.21%, P accumulation had negative effects on growth. Nitrogen was not stored, but evidence of futile cycling was observed. The capacity to store large amounts of P is probably an adaptation to the low and patchy nutrient environment of the tropical oceans. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1985-1995
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecostoichiometry
  • Eutrophication
  • Growth rate hypothesis
  • Luxury uptake
  • Tropical algae

Cite this