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Helgoland Marine Research

Open Access

Morphological and physiological differences between two morphotypes of Zostera noltii Hornem. from the south-western Iberian Peninsula

  • G. Peralta,
  • J. L. Pérez-Lloréns,
  • I. Hernández,
  • F. Brun,
  • J. J. Vergara,
  • A. Bartual,
  • J. A. Gálvez and
  • C. M. García
Helgoland Marine Research54:00540080.10152


The morphological and physiological differences between two morphotypes of Z. noltii Hornem. were studied in the intertidal meadows on the south-western Iberian Peninsula (Palmones river estuary and Ria Formosa). A small-leaved morphotype (SM) grows mainly at high intertidal sites, meadow edges or in recently deposited sandbanks, whereas a large-leaved morphotype (LM) generally thrives in well-structured beds or in deeper places. This study deals with the morphological, biochemical and physiological differences between these morphotypes as well as the ecological implications of the occurrence of different morphotypes in the same meadow. Shoot length, leaf width, rhizome internode length, roots per node, root length, leaf nutrient and pigment contents, and photosynthetic rates of both morphotypes were compared. The below-ground architecture (root and rhizome complex) of both morphotypes was more developed in sites characterized by higher hydrodynamics and/or a lower nitrogen content in sediments. Both morphotypes showed similar values for photosynthetic efficiency, dark respiration rate and compensation irradiance. On the other hand, the net photosynthetic capacity was much greater (5-fold) for the SM. This difference could explain the greater growth rate and faster leaf turnover rate of the SM compared with the LM. The occurrence of the SM in newly settled areas (and in the meadow edges) could be explained on the basis of its higher growth rate, which would allow a faster spreading of the meadow and/or better recovery after burial resulting from stormy weathers.

Key words SeagrassZostera noltiiMorphotypesGrowth