Holdfast aggregation in relation to morphology, age, attachment and drag for the kelp Ecklonia radiata

Document Type

Journal Article




Computing, Health and Science


School of Natural Sciences




Originally published as: Wernberg, T. (2005). Holdfast aggregation in relation to morphology, age, attachment and drag for the kelp Ecklonia radiata. Aquatic botany, 82(3), 168-180. Original article available here


This study quantified the prevalence of holdfast aggregation (fusion of holdfasts) for the kelp Ecklonia radiata on subtidal reefs in southwestern Australia, and tested whether morphology, age, attachment or drag were different between kelps growing alone (solitary) or in aggregates. Wave-sheltered in-shore reefs consistently had fewer aggregates than wave-exposed off-shore reefs (15–20% versus 20–30%). On average, individual thalli from aggregates were longer (97.8 cm ± 2.2 S.E. versus 88.0 cm ± 2.0 S.E.) and had smaller holdfasts (32.9 g fresh wt ± 1.7 S.E. versus 45.8 g fresh wt ± 2.9 S.E.) than solitary thalli, whereas there were no significant differences in other morphological characters, including total biomass (805.1 g fresh wt ± 38.7 S.E. versus 831.5 g fresh wt ± 38.5 S.E.), stipe length (7.93 cm ± 0.47 S.E. versus 7.65 cm ± 0.40 S.E.) and stipe diameter (12.6 mm ± 0.23 S.E. versus 13.0 mm ± 0.25 S.E.). There was no difference in age between solitary (2.7–3.0 years) and aggregated (2.4–2.8 years) individuals. While the attachment force of whole aggregates (256.5 N ± 21.6 S.E.) was found to be significantly larger than attachment force for solitary individuals (162.5 N ± 12.9 S.E.), attachment areas were also larger for aggregates (90.7 cm2 ± 5.40 S.E. versus 64.3 cm2 ± 5.54 S.E.) and consequently there were no differences in attachment strength between aggregates (2.92 N cm−2 ± 0.26 S.E.) and solitary thalli (2.71 N cm−2 ± 0.22 S.E.). Aggregates had significantly smaller (17%) roughness factors (equivalent to drag coefficients) than solitary individuals and a negative relationship (r = −0.68) between roughness factors and biomass suggested that this was related to the scope for compaction and rearrangement of the thalli. Further, there was no relationship between roughness factors of solitary individuals and the aggregates they produced when combined, suggesting that roughness factors are not additive or multiplicative. The spatial distribution of holdfast aggregates, the morphological differences between solitary and aggregated individuals as well as their attachment and drag characteristics were all consistent with aggregation reducing the rate of fatal kelp dislodgment.




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