Seaweed is a microorganism that grows in oceans, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water and is comprised of algae. Algae is a plantlike organism that doesn’t contain actual roots, flowers, leaves and stems, but does contain the green pigment known as chlorophyll. This allows the organisms to grow through the process of photosynthesis. Seaweed can include members of green, red or brown algae families, and there exist around 10,000 species within many marine habitats around the world.
A seaweed may belong to one of several groups of multicellular algae: the red algae, green algae, and brown algae. As these three groups are not thought to have a common multicellular ancestor, the seaweeds are a polyphyletic group. In addition, some tuft-forming bluegreen algae (Cyanobacteria) are sometimes considered as seaweeds — “seaweed” is a colloquial term and lacks a formal definition
Two specific environmental requirements dominate seaweed ecology. These are the presence of seawater (or at least brackish water) and the presence of light sufficient to drive photosynthesis. Another common requirement is a firm attachment point. As a result, seaweeds most commonly inhabit the littoral zone and within that zone more frequently on rocky shores than on sand or shingle. Seaweeds occupy a wide range of ecological niches. The highest elevation is only wetted by the tops of sea spray, the lowest is several meters deep. In some areas, littoral seaweeds can extend several miles out to sea. The limiting factor in such cases is sunlight availability. The deepest living seaweeds are the various kelps.
A number of species such as Sargassum have adapted to a fully planktonic niche and are free-floating, depending on gas-filled sacs to maintain an acceptable depth. Others have adapted to live in tidal rock pools. In this niche seaweeds must withstand rapidly changing temperature and salinity and even occasional drying
Types of Seaweed
The simplest of the seaweeds are among the cyanobacteria, formerly called the blue-green algae, and green algae (division Chlorophyta), found nearest the shore in shallow waters and usually growing as threadlike filaments, irregular sheets, or branching fronds. The brown algae (division Phaeophyta), in which brown pigment masks the green of the chlorophyll, are the most numerous of the seaweeds of temperate and polar regions. They grow at depths of 50 to 75 ft (15-23 m). The red seaweeds (division Rhodophyta), many of them delicate and fernlike, are found at the greatest depths (up to 879 ft/268 m); their red pigment enables them to absorb the blue and violet light present at those depths.
Reproduction in Seaweeds
Seaweeds reproduce in a variety of ways. Lower types reproduce asexually. More advanced kinds produce motile zoospores that swim off, anchor themselves, and grow into new individuals, or they reproduce sexually by forming sex cells (gametes) that, after fusing, follow the same pattern. Sometimes pieces of a seaweed break off and form new plants; in a few species there is a cycle of asexual and sexual reproduction foreshadowing the alternation of generations characteristic of plants.