1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Algae/Ecology

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

When it is sought to consider algae with a view to the correlation of the external form to the conditions of life, a subject the study of which under the name of ecology has been latterly pursued with great success among land plants, it is difficult as yetEcology. to arrive at generalizations which are trustworthy. Among land plants, as is well known, similarity of environment has of ten called forth similar adaptations among plants of widely separated families. The similarity of certain xerophilous Euphorbiaceae to Cactaceae is a ready illustration of this phenomenon. From what has been already said it is evident that among algae also strikingly similar forms exist in widely different groups. Instances might be multiplied. Compare, for example, the blue-green Gloeocapsa with the green Gloeocystis, the red Batrachospermum with the green Draparnaldia, the red Corallina with the green Cymopolia, the green Enteromorpha with the brown Asperococcus, the green Ulva with the red Porphyra, the red Nemalion with the brown Castagnea, and so on. But on the one hand similar forms seem to grow often under different conditions, while on the other hand different forms flourish under the same conditions. The conceivable variations in the conditions which would count in algal life are variations in the chemical character of the water—whether fresh, brackish or salt; or in the rate of movement of the water, whether relatively quiet, or a stream or a surf; or in the degree of illumination with the depth and transparency of the water. But the laws which determine the associations of various algae under one environment are as yet little understood. The occurrence of a plentiful mucilage in many freshwater forms is, however, doubtless a provision against desiccation on exposure. The fine subdivision of filamentous and net-forms is similarly a provision for easy access of water and light to all parts. The calcareous deposits in Characeae, Corallinaceae and Siphonaceae are at once a protection against attack and a means of support. The whip-forms would seem to be designed to resist injury from surf or current. The vesicles of Fucaceae and Laminariaceae prevent the sinking of the bulkier forms. But why certain Fucaceae favour certain zones in the littoral region, why certain epiphytes are confined to certain hosts, why Red and Brown Algae are not better represented in fresh water or Green Algae in salt,—these are problems to which it is difficult to find a ready answer.