Sessile organisms such as macroalgae located in the intertidal and shallow subtidal zones are subject to a hydrodynamically diverse environment, controlling the variation of intraspecific morphology and distribution. Kelp forests experience both waves and/or currents, yet, how kelp blade material mechanically differs between these various hydrodynamic environments and what drives the variation in strength and extensibility are not fully understood. Here, the mechanical properties, cellular composition and blade tissue thickness of the meristematic region and distal tips of the kelp Laminaria digitata blades were quantified and compared between seasons and among three hydrodynamic environments: wave dominated, current dominated and a benign hydrodynamic environment. Kelps associated with energetic environments, generally tended to be stronger yet more extensible than those growing in the benign hydrodynamic environment. Higher extensibility was located at the meristematic region whereas tissue was stronger in the distal tip of the blade. Linking both cellular composition and mechanical properties, results suggest enhancement of medulla cells in the meristematic region increases extensibility, potentially protecting the thallus during increased storm activity while growing in a wave/current exposed habitat. Investment in cortex cells towards the tip of the blade suggests an increase in strength of the region, which is susceptible to breakage. However, the lack of variation in the proportion of medulla and cortex cellular layers between distinct hydrodynamic environments revealed that the potential overall strategy for avoiding breakage in energetic hydrodynamic environments is that of investing energy into the increased thickness of blade tissue.
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