Failure by fatigue in the field: A model of fatigue breakage for the macroalga Mazzaella, with validation

Katharine J. Mach, Sarah K. Tepler, Anton V. Staaf, James C. Bohnhoff, Mark W. Denny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Seaweeds inhabiting the extreme hydrodynamic environment of wave-swept shores break frequently. However, traditional biomechanical analyses, evaluating breakage due to the largest individual waves, have perennially underestimated rates of macroalgal breakage. Recent laboratory testing has established that some seaweeds fail by fatigue, accumulating damage over a series of force impositions. Failure by fatigue may thus account, in part, for the discrepancy between prior breakage predictions, based on individual not repeated wave forces, and reality. Nonetheless, the degree to which fatigue breaks seaweeds on waveswept shores remains unknown. Here, we developed a model of fatigue breakage due to wave-induced forces for the macroalga Mazzaella flaccida. To test model performance, we made extensive measurements of M. flaccida breakage and of wave-induced velocities experienced by the macroalga. The fatigue-breakage model accounted for significantly more breakage than traditional prediction methods. For life history phases modeled most accurately, 105% (for female gametophytes) and 79% (for tetrasporophytes) of field-observed breakage was predicted, on average. When M. flaccida fronds displayed attributes such as temperature stress and substantial tattering, the fatigue-breakage model underestimated breakage, suggesting that these attributes weaken fronds and lead to more rapid breakage. Exposure to waves had the greatest influence on model performance. At the most wave-protected sites, the model underpredicted breakage, and at the most wave-exposed sites, it overpredicted breakage. Overall, our fatigue-breakage model strongly suggests that, in addition to occurring predictably in the laboratory, fatigue-induced breakage of M. flaccida occurs on wave-swept shores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1571-1585
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Breakage
  • Ecomechanics
  • Fatigue
  • Macroalgae
  • Mazzaella
  • Wave forces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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