The Martone Lab

Biomechanics, evolution, and ecophysiology of marine macroalgae








The intertidal zone of wave-swept rocky shores is one of the most physically stressful habitats on Earth. At low tide, marine organisms are faced with terrestrial conditions (e.g., heat and desiccation stresses). At high tide, organisms are pummeled by breaking waves that can apply drag forces far greater than hurricane winds. We are interested in intertidal seaweeds, which must survive these conditions wherever they settle and grow. (rollover image...)


Selective pressures that drive diversity

The morphological diversity of marine macroalgae provides a constant source of questions. We are curious about the differential performance of seaweeds in flow and the selective pressures that shape modern diversity. Using re-circulating flumes and various implements of algal torture, we compare drag and reconfiguration of intertidal fronds to forces required to break support tissues, cause dislodgement, and impact the survival of seaweeds in the field.



Coralline algal evolution, phylogenetics, and taxonomy

According to the fossil record, calcified coralline crusts gave rise to upright articulated corallines at least three times throughout evolutionary history. But recent evidence suggests that some crustose species evolved from articulated ancestors, representing an evolutionary reversal and a surprising loss of morphological complexity. We use DNA barcoding to characterize coralline diversity, to describe cryptic coralline species that were previously overlooked, and to better understand the evolution of coralline morphologies through time.


Early evolution of plant cell walls

Life in the ocean poses different constraints on the biomechanics of plants, yet land plants evolved from aquatic ancestors long ago. Ongoing research in the lab seeks to understand how cell wall components, such as lignin and cellulose, which are so important to the structure and biomechanics of land plants, likely trace their origins to the ocean. We are analyzing algal transcriptomes to investigate genes related to lignin and cellulose synthesis that might be shared among macroalgae and plants. We characterize the composition and structure of cell walls in kelps, which appear similar to those in land plants but evolved independently.


Kelp flapping video  

Development and functional morphology of seaweeds

To survive the biomechanical stresses associated with water motion, many seaweeds develop growth forms with distinctive hydrodynamic properties and exhibit phenotypic plasticity across hydrodynamic gradients. We are interested in the ability of seaweeds, particularly large kelps, to sense the flow environment and alter their developmental patterns to achieve new shapes. We are also curious about how climate stress may impact seaweed performance and morphogenesis. We use state-of-the-art growth flumes to investigate the interactive effects of light, flow, temperature, nutrients, and more, on the development of kelps. We also culture kelps from spores to observe and manipulate early development and morphogenesis. (rollover image...)


Algal physiology and climate change

Seaweeds provide both food and habitat in marine ecosystems, and shifts in their abundance would likely have cascading effects throughout marine communities. Several researchers in the lab are quantifying physiological performance of seaweeds to explore differences that might explain habitat distributions and to anticipate responses of intertidal species to climate change. We monitor seaweed communities along the BC coast, establishing baseline measures of species composition to help us detect shifts in seaweed abundance and distribution in the future.



Department of Botany, University of British Columbia

3529-6270 University Blvd, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4 CANADA

Rm 3224, Biological Sciences Building

604-822-9338 (PTM office), 604-822-9413 (lab)