Marine macroalgae (seaweed) show diverse life cycles. Species with a heteromorphic life cycle have a large multicellular algal body in one generation but have a very small body in the second generation of the same year. In contrast, the diploid and haploid life forms of isomorphic species have similar morphology, and these species often have more than two generations in a year. Here, we first study the optimal life cycle schedule of marine macroalgae when daily mortality changes seasonally, and then we discuss the conditions for coexistence and relative dominance of different life cycles. According to the optimal life cycle schedule, heteromorphic species tend to have a generation with a large algal body when mortality is low, and a microscopic-sized generation when mortality is high. In contrast, isomorphic species tend to mature when body size reaches a threshold value that is the same for different generations. We then examine the coexistence of the two life cycles when growth rate decreases with biomass. The model predicts that (1) at high latitudes (i.e., in strongly seasonal environments), heteromorphic species are likely to dominate over isomorphic species, and (2) species with a heteromorphic life cycle should dominate in the supratidal and upper intertidal zones where macroalgae tend to suffer high mortality, and also in the subtidal zone, where mortality is low, whereas isomorphic species are likely to be more successful when mortality is intermediate. These predictions are consistent with the observed distribution patterns of the two life cycles in macroalgae.
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