Seaweed Survival

Dr. Patrick Martone is a Professor in the Department of Botany at the University of British Columbia and a Curator of Algae in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. He looks at how algae cope with physical and environmental challenges associated with living on the wave-battered, sun-exposed coast, and explains how you've likely interacted with seaweed, in some form, today.

Well, I thought about studying animals for some time and realized that animals, in some ways, have it a little bit easy and that they can run and hide when the conditions get too stormy, whereas seaweeds, on the other hand, have to just cling to the rock and flap in the waves and maybe change the way they grow or how they look in order to survive, and I thought that was really fascinating. My name is Patrick Martone, I'm a Professor in the Botany Department at UBC and one of the Curators of Algae at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. So algae are a special group of organisms that are really diverse they're photosynthetic, most of them are aquatic, and we can think about them in terms of phytoplankton, which are tiny microscopic things that live in the oceans and in lakes and rivers around the world, or as seaweeds which are the macroscopic, the large photosynthesizers, that tend to live in near-shore habitats. They provide food and habitat for all the animals so they're a very important part of our ecosystem. One kind of seaweed are the green algae, and the green algae are the only group of seaweeds that ever made it to land. So all of the trees and plants that you see on land evolved from the green algae when they moved out of the aquatic environment up into terrestrial systems. A common green algae that you might know of would be Ulva, this is the sea lettuce which is really common in nearshore habitats in BC.

The brown algae are another group of seaweeds. These are some of the largest algae that we have along the coast. For example the giant kelp, this is Macrocystis, forms really important forests along along the coast. Another one would be the bull kelp, this is Nereosystis, which also forms important habitat. And these two large brown algae form three-dimensional environments for the animals and other algae to live along our coast. The red algae are one of my favorite kinds of seaweeds. These are really beautiful, all kinds of shapes sizes and colours, and they are also really important components of nearshore ecosystems. One red seaweed that you may have heard of is nori, this is the seaweed that you would eat in in sushi, and our local nori species is really important to Indigenous people along our coast, and of course nori has been farmed and eaten in Asia for thousands of years.

Some researchers in my lab are thinking about seaweed physiology, and how seaweed survival might be affected by changing ocean conditions. So changes in ocean temperature and ocean pH that might negatively impact seaweed performance and seaweed survival might work its way through marine food webs and affect marine communities on a broader scale, because seaweeds form important habitat and food for animals, anything that might affect the seaweeds might also indirectly affect the animals themselves. So, who should care about seaweeds? Well, all of us should care about seaweeds from a number of angles. For one thing you've probably brushed your teeth with seaweed this morning, or had it in your ice cream last night. So seaweeds are grown, harvested, farmed around the world and in fact kelp aquaculture is huge right now in BC. And it's really important not only for food and cosmetics but also for many different medical uses and so lots of people are thinking about the economic uses of seaweeds but the other aspect of this is that seaweed form really important habitat along our coast. So if you're a scuba diver or if you fish or do anything along our coast, chances are you're in and around these environments that include seaweeds which are supporting all of the animals and other organisms along the coast. So seaweeds are really important not only for economic uses but also for biodiversity.


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