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Title: Large-scale shift in the structure of a kelp forest ecosystem co-occurs with an epizootic and marine heatwave
Abstract Climate change is responsible for increased frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme events, such as marine heatwaves (MHWs). Within eastern boundary current systems, MHWs have profound impacts on temperature-nutrient dynamics that drive primary productivity. Bull kelp ( Nereocystis luetkeana ) forests, a vital nearshore habitat, experienced unprecedented losses along 350 km of coastline in northern California beginning in 2014 and continuing through 2019. These losses have had devastating consequences to northern California communities, economies, and fisheries. Using a suite of in situ and satellite-derived data, we demonstrate that the abrupt ecosystem shift initiated by a multi-year MHW was preceded by declines in keystone predator population densities. We show strong evidence that northern California kelp forests, while temporally dynamic, were historically resilient to fluctuating environmental conditions, even in the absence of key top predators, but that a series of coupled environmental and biological shifts between 2014 and 2016 resulted in the formation of a persistent, altered ecosystem state with low primary productivity. Based on our findings, we recommend the implementation of ecosystem-based and adaptive management strategies, such as (1) monitoring the status of key ecosystem attributes: kelp distribution and abundance, and densities of sea urchins and their predators, (2) developing management responses to threshold levels of these attributes, and (3) creating quantitative restoration suitability indices for informing kelp restoration efforts.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2023664 1831937 1538582
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Communications Biology
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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