Desiccation tolerance in the chlorophyte green alga Ulva compressa: does cell wall architecture contribute to ecological success?

PMID 25896374


Desiccation leads to structural changes of the inner pectic cell wall layers in Ulva compressa. This contributes to protection against mechanical damage due to desiccation-rehydration cycles. Ulva compressa, characterized by rbcL phylogeny, is a common species in the Mediterranean Sea. Ulva as an intertidal species tolerates repeated desiccation-rehydration cycles in nature; the physiological and structural basis were investigated under experimental conditions here. Desiccation to 73% relative water content (RWC) led to a significant decrease of the maximum quantum yield of photosystem II (F v/F m) to about half of the initial value. A reduction to 48 or 27% RWC caused a more drastic effect and thalli were only able to recover fully from desiccation to 73% RWC. Relative electron transport rates were stimulated at 73% RWC, but decreased significantly at 48 and 27% RWC, respectively. Imaging-PAM analysis demonstrated a homogenous desiccation process within individual thallus discs. The different cell wall layers of U. compressa were characterized by standard staining procedures, i.e. calcofluor white and aniline blue for structural components (cellulose, callose), ruthenium red for pectins and toluidine blue for acidic polysaccharides. Already a reduction to 73% RWC caused severe changes of the cell walls. The inner pectin-rich layers followed the shrinkage process of the cytoplasm, while the outer denser fibrillar layers maintained their shape. In this way, the thalli were not plasmolyzed during water loss, and upon recovery not negatively influenced by any mechanical damage. Transmission electron microscopy corroborated the arrangement of the different layers clearly distinguishable by their texture and electron density. We suggest the flexibility of the pectin-rich cell wall layers as a major contribution to desiccation tolerance in Ulva.