Microhabitat distribution was investigated in five populations of Characeae (two of Chara guairensis, two of Nitella subglomerata and one of Nitella sp.) to determine the distributional patterns, the morphometric and reproductive adaptations to varying environmental conditions and niche width on a scale of few centimeters. Variations in physical variables revealed some general trends of microhabitat distribution for the Characeae populations studied, with occurrence under the following conditions: slow and narrow current velocities; substrata predominantly composed of small particle size (sand-clay); variable and generally low depths. In terms of morphological adaptations, we found some general patterns: plants with longer whorl branchlets also had longer internodes in ail populations studied, whereas longer plants had also thicker axis. The former were generally associated with higher biomass (percent cover). Few correlations of morphological characters were observed with environmental variables (e.g. plant length with irradiance: negative in two populations and positive in one population). Despite the general patterns of occurrence mentioned above, our results also indicated that each population differed in its responses to environmental variables and had particular morphological and reproductive adaptations. The Characean populations occurred under a narrower range of microhabitat conditions than other macroalgae from lotie habitats, particularly lower current velocity (6.7-9.8 cm s-1) and a more specific substratum type (sand-clay). Niche width values (0.60-0.99) of the Characeae populations studied indicate a high degree of habitat specialization and are among the highest yet found in lotie macroalgae. The relatively narrow variations in microhabitat conditions and high niche widths here reported for Characean populations, suggest a lower tolerance to variations in current velocity, depth, irradiance and substratum type. These characteristics probably explain the relatively restricted distribution of Characeae species in streams of São Paulo State with low frequency of records in most regions.
Chara, Characeae, current velocity, freshwater green algae, microhabitat, Nitella, plant structure, stream