1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Algae/Benthos

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The great majority of algae, however, grow like land-plants attached to a substratum, and to these the term benthos is now generally applied. While the root of land-ploants serves for the double purpose of attachment and the supply of water,Benthos. it is attachment only that is usually sought in the case of algae. Immersed as they usually are in a medium containing in solution the inorganic substances which they require for their nutrition, the absorption of these takes place throughout their whole extent. The elaborate provision for the conduct of water from part to part which has played so important a rôle in the morphological development of land plants is entirely wanting in algae, such conducting tissues as do exist in the larger Phaeophyceae and Rhodophyceae serving rather for the convection of elaborated organic substance, and being thus comparable with the phloem of the higher plants. The attachment organ of algae is thus more properly called a holdfast, and is found to be of very varied structure. It generally takes the form of a single flattened disc as in the Fucaceae, or a group of fingerlike processes as in Laminariaceae, or a tuft of filaments as in many instances. When the attachment is in sand or mud, it often simulates the appearance of a true root as in Chara or Caulerpa. It is clear that where the bottom of a lake or sea consists of oozy mud or shifting sand, it is impossible for algae to secure a foothold. Thus a rock emerging from a sandy beach may often be observed to stand covered with vegetation like an oasis in a desert. The rapidity with which walls, piles and pontoons—stone, wood and iron—become covered with marine plants is well known, while the discovery of some effective means of preventing the fouling of the bottoms of ships by the growth of algae would be hailed as a boon by shipowners. While rocks and boulders are the favoured situation for the growth of marine algae, those which readily disintegrate, like the coarser sandstones, are naturally less favoured than the hard and resistant. A large number of algae again live as epiphytes or endophytes. In the case of the freshwater species the host-plants are mostly species of aquatic Graminaceae, Naiadaceae or Nymphaeaceae. In the case of marine algae, the hosts are chiefly the larger Phaeophyceae and Rhodophyceae. A bed of Zostera near the level of low water is, however, on the British coast a favourite collecting ground for the smaller red and brown epiphytes. Of endophytes a distinction must be made between those which occupy the cell-wall only and those which perforate the cells, bringing about their destruction. There can be little doubt that in some cases the epiphytism approaches parasitism. In one case described by Kuckuck the chromaphores of the infesting algae are absent, a circumstance which points to a complete parasitism. Allusion has already been made to the peculiar habit of the shell-boring algae.