Mechanical and biological consequences of repetitive loading: Crack initiation and fatigue failure in the red macroalga Mazzaella

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22 Scopus citations


On rocky shores, wave-swept macroalgae experience dramatic and repeated wave-induced hydrodynamic forces. However, previous studies of macroalgal mechanics have shown that individual waves are not forceful enough to account for observed rates of breakage. Instead, fatigue may contribute to algal breakage, with damage accumulating over time in conditions of repeated loading. Here I examine the entire process of fatigue, from crack initiation to eventual specimen fracture, in the common red alga Mazzaella. Propensity for fatigue failure in laboratory tests varied with life history phase and species: at a given repeated loading stress, male gametophytes endured more loading cycles before breakage than tetrasporophytes, which in turn lasted longer than female gametophytes; likewise, M. splendens withstood more loading cycles at a given repeated loading stress than M. flaccida. Fatigue failure begins with formation of cracks, the timing and location of which were assessed. Cracks formed, on average, after approximately 80-90% of cycles required for failure had passed, although crack timing varied with life history phase. Also, crack formation frequently occurred in association with endophytes and female gametophyte reproductive structures, suggesting a cost of endophyte infection and a tradeoff between reproduction and mechanical survival. Comparison between laboratory and field loading conditions provides robust confirmation that fatigue breaks fronds in natural M. flaccida populations. Large, female gametophyte fronds are predicted to be most susceptible to fatigue failure in the field, whereas small, male gametophyte fronds are least likely to break.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)961-976
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Breakage
  • Crack growth
  • Crack initiation
  • Endophytes
  • Fatigue
  • Life history phases
  • Macroalgae
  • Mazzaella
  • Seaweed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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