Comparative growth rates and internal banding periodicity of maerl species (Corallinales, Rhodophyta) from northern Europe

Charmaine Blake, Christine Maggs

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124 Citations (Scopus)


Maerl is a type of rhodolith, found in ecologically important beds of high conservation value; a major conservation objective is to establish growth rates. Maerl shows internal banding of controversial periodicity that may contain a high-resolution record of palaeoceanographic-palaeoclimatic data. To investigate growth rates and banding periodicity, we used the vital stain Alizarin Red in combination with scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Three maerl species, Phymatolithon calcareum, Lithothamnion corallioides and L. glaciale, were collected from maerl beds in Ireland. Following staining, maerl was grown in three controlled temperature treatments and at two depths in the field (P. calcareum only), with Corallina officinalis as a control for the stain. Alizarin Red was shown to be a suitable marker for growth in European maerl species and for C. officinalis. The average tip growth rate of P. calcareum from Northern Ireland at 10 m depth and under constant laboratory conditions was c. 0.9 mm yr(-1), double the rates observed at 5 m depth and in L. corallioides. Our measurements and re-examination of reported data allow us to conclude that the three most abundant maerl species in Europe grow about 1 (0.5-1.5) mm per tip per year under a wide range of field and artificial conditions. Internal banding in temperate European maerl revealed by SEM is a result of regular changes in wall thickness; the approximately monthly periodicity of bands in field-grown specimens is consistent with previous suggestions that they may be lunar. The potential for maerl banding to be a high-resolution record of palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental change could be realized with this vital stain in conjunction with isotopic or microgeochemical analyses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-612
Number of pages7
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Plant Science


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