Mastocarpus stellatus and Chondrus crispus are red macroalgae that co-dominate the lower rocky intertidal zones of the northern Atlantic coast. M. stellatus is more tolerant than C. crispus of environmental stresses, particularly those experienced during winter. This difference in tolerance has been attributed, in part, to greater contents or activities of certain antioxidants in M. stellatus. We compared the photosynthetic capacities and activities of three antioxidant enzymes--superoxide dismutase (SOD), ascorbate peroxidase (APX), and glutathione reductase (GR)--as well as the contents of ascorbate from fronds of M. stellatus and C. crispus collected over a year. Photosynthetic capacity increased in winter, but did not differ between species in any season. The activities of the three antioxidant enzymes and the contents of ascorbate were significantly greater in tissues collected during months with mean air and water temperatures below 7.5 degrees C ("cold" months; December, February, March, April) than in months with mean air temperatures above 11 degrees C ("warm" months; June, July, August, October). Overall, C. crispus had significantly greater SOD and APX activities, while M. stellatus had higher ascorbate contents. Species-specific differences in GR activity depended upon mean monthly temperatures at the time of tissue collection; C. crispus had higher activities during cold months, whereas M. stellatus had higher activities during warm months. Taken together, these data indicate that increased ROS scavenging capacity is a part of winter acclimatization; however, only trends in ascorbate content support the hypothesis that greater levels of antioxidants underlie the relatively greater winter tolerance of M. stellatus in comparison to C. crispus.
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