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Seaweeds are multicellular algae that inhabit the oceans. Despite their evolutionary distance from each other, seaweeds – such as brown algae, red algae, and green algae – have in common many aspects of their biology and contributions to the ecology of the seas. Most species of seaweed are benthic (living on the seafloor); they grow on rock, sand, mud, and coral on the sea bottom. Other species live on other organisms and as part of fouling communities (plants and animals that live on pilings, boat bottoms, and other artificial surfaces). Some seaweeds attach to very specific surfaces, whereas other seaweeds are rather nonselective. In general, seaweeds inhabit about 2 percent of the seafloor. The presence of benthic seaweeds defines the inner continental shelf, where the marine community largely depends on the food and protection that seaweeds provide. Life on the outer continental shelf and in the deep sea is quite different in the absence of seaweeds. The distinction between the inner and outer shelves is based on the compensation depth of algae. The compensation depth is the depth of water at which there is just enough light for algae to survive. At that depth all the oxygen produced by photosynthesis is consumed by the algae's respiration, so that no further growth can occur. The environmental factors that are most influential in governing the distribution of seaweeds are light and temperature. Some other abiotic (nonliving) factors critical in governing the distribution of seaweeds are duration of tidal exposure and desiccation (drying out), wave action and surge, salinity, and availability of mineral nutrients. The areas of the world most favorable to seaweed diversity include both sides of the North Pacific Ocean, Australia, southwestern Africa, and the Mediterranean Sea. The vertical and horizontal distributions of seaweeds are limited in part by the availability of sunlight and, therefore, vary by depth, latitude, sea conditions, and season. It was once thought that the vertical distribution of red, brown, and green algae could be explained by their accessory photosynthetic pigments (photosynthetic pigments other than chlorophyll a), the presence of which gives the seaweeds their characteristic colors, a concept known as chromatic adaptation. Because green light penetrates deepest in coastal waters and the accessory pigments of red algae absorb mostly green wavelengths, red algae were thought to extend to the greatest depth. It followed that green algae, which have pigments absorbing mostly blue and red wavelengths that are diminished rapidly in seawater, should be found at the shallowest depths. Because accessory pigments of brown algae absorb intermediate wavelengths of light, brown algae would be expected to be most abundant at intermediate depths. Indeed, some recent evidence would seem to support the hypothesis of chromatic adaptation because the depth record (295 meters, or 973 feet) for seaweeds is held by a yet undescribed species of red algae from the Bahamas. However, the green alga Rhipiliopsis profunda is close behind this record at 268 meters (884 feet). The concept of chromatic adaptation was proposed in 1883, and the hypothesis was accepted for about 100 years, until it was realized that such zonation did not necessarily occur and that the distribution of seaweeds depended more on herbivory (the consumption of plant material), competition, varying concentration of the specialized pigments, and the ability of seaweeds to alter their forms of growth. Temperature affects the distribution of seaweeds. The greatest diversity of algal species is in tropical waters. Farther north or south of the equator, the number of species decreases, and the species themselves are different. Many marine algae in colder latitudes are perennials, meaning that they live longer than two years. During the colder seasons only part of the alga remains alive, sometimes only a few cells, but most often a mass of stemlike structures. When the temperature warms up in the spring, this body part initiates new growth. Temperature is not usually a limiting factor for algae that live in tropical and subtropical seas, although temperatures in intertidal areas (those areas between high and low tides) may become too warm and contribute to seasonal mass mortality of many seaweeds and the animals they shelter. At high latitudes, freezing and scouring by ice may eliminate seaweeds from the intertidal and shallow subtidal zones.