Nav: Home

Getting by with a little help from their friends

January 25, 2017

After big winter storms, clumps of kelp forests often wash ashore along the Southern California coast. Contrary to the devastation these massive piles of seaweed might indicate, new research suggests the kelp may rebound pretty quickly, with help from neighboring beds.

The study, conducted by UC Santa Barbara scientists and colleagues at UC Santa Cruz, UCLA and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, found that kelp forests can bounce back from destructive storms when the forests are in reasonably close proximity to healthy beds. In much the same way that the wind scatters plant seeds over the land, ocean currents carry trillions of microscopic spores from one kelp forest to another, where they create life for ailing populations. The marine scientists' findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Historically, researchers thought that kelp forest resilience depended on only the local environment," explained lead author Max Castorani, a postdoctoral scholar at UCSB's Marine Science Institute. "However, that turned out to be wrong, as we showed that kelp forests from miles away influence whether a local kelp forest persists or goes extinct. Declining kelp forests can be rescued or recolonized by neighboring populations, so the proximity among forests is very important."

For example, kelp forests off the coast of Santa Barbara are linked to neighboring beds near Montecito and Goleta Beach but also to those farther away -- as far south as Carpinteria and as far north as Isla Vista and the Gaviota coast.

"From year to year, the ocean currents change and the size of kelp populations expand or contract," Castorani said. "In a given year, we could estimate how many spores were sent among all the hundreds of kelp forests in Southern California, allowing us to identify important rescuing populations."

To measure kelp abundance from San Diego to Point Conception, the researchers used data from a 32-year time series assembled from Landsat satellite images. This was calibrated to kelp abundance and spore production gathered from diving expeditions.

Also included was more than a decade of Southern California oceanographic modeling performed by co-authors David Siegel and Rachel Simons of UCSB's Earth Research Institute.

The analysis overall showed that the chance of a population being rescued depends on the size of the neighboring forest, the number of spores it produces and the strength of ocean currents that carry the spores.

"Of these factors, year-to-year changes in spore production turned out to be the most important to successfully rescuing neighboring kelp populations," Castorani noted. "This is valuable to ocean conservation because it can inform which kelp forests should be prioritized for protection or where coastal restoration efforts could be most effective."
-end-


University of California - Santa Barbara

Related Kelp Articles:

Kilauea eruption fosters algae bloom in North Pacific Ocean
USC Dornsife and University of Hawaii researchers get a rare opportunity to study the immediate impact of lava from the Kilauea volcano on the marine environment surrounding the Hawaiian islands.
DNA analysis reveals cryptic underwater ecosystem engineers
They look like smears of pink bubblegum on the rocks off British Columbia's coast, indistinguishable from one another.
Sloppy sea urchins
Marine scientists discover an important, overlooked role sea urchins play in the kelp forest ecosystem.
Underwater forests a treasure trove of new drugs
Defensive compounds produced by microbes are a major source of antibiotics and other important medicines.
Scientists measure extent of recovery for critically endangered black abalone
One critically endangered species of smooth-shelled abalone is making a comeback in certain parts of its range along the California coast.
More Kelp News and Kelp Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...