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  1. Spatial synchrony, the tendency for populations across space to show correlated fluctuations, is a fundamental feature of population dynamics, linked to central topics of ecology such as population cycling, extinction risk, and ecosystem stability. A common mechanism of spatial synchrony is the Moran effect, whereby spatially synchronized environmental signals drive population dynamics and hence induce population synchrony. After reviewing recent progress in understanding Moran effects, we here elaborate a general theory of how Moran effects of different environmental drivers acting on the same populations can interact, either synergistically or destructively, to produce either substantially more or markedly less population synchrony than would otherwise occur. We provide intuition for how this newly recognized mechanism works through theoretical case studies and application of our theory to California populations of giant kelp. We argue that Moran interactions should be common. Our theory and analysis explain an important new aspect of a fundamental feature of spatiotemporal population dynamics.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 17, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2024
  4. Pérez-Matus, Alejandro (Ed.)

    Giant kelp and bull kelp forests are increasingly at risk from marine heatwave events, herbivore outbreaks, and the loss or alterations in the behavior of key herbivore predators. The dynamic floating canopy of these kelps is well-suited to study via satellite imagery, which provides high temporal and spatial resolution data of floating kelp canopy across the western United States and Mexico. However, the size and complexity of the satellite image dataset has made ecological analysis difficult for scientists and managers. To increase accessibility of this rich dataset, we created Kelpwatch, a web-based visualization and analysis tool. This tool allows researchers and managers to quantify kelp forest change in response to disturbances, assess historical trends, and allow for effective and actionable kelp forest management. Here, we demonstrate how Kelpwatch can be used to analyze long-term trends in kelp canopy across regions, quantify spatial variability in the response to and recovery from the 2014 to 2016 marine heatwave events, and provide a local analysis of kelp canopy status around the Monterey Peninsula, California. We found that 18.6% of regional sites displayed a significant trend in kelp canopy area over the past 38 years and that there was a latitudinal response to heatwave events for each kelp species. The recovery from heatwave events was more variable across space, with some local areas like Bahía Tortugas in Baja California Sur showing high recovery while kelp canopies around the Monterey Peninsula continued a slow decline and patchy recovery compared to the rest of the Central California region. Kelpwatch provides near real time spatial data and analysis support and makes complex earth observation data actionable for scientists and managers, which can help identify areas for research, monitoring, and management efforts.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 23, 2024
  5. Disentangling the roles of the external environment and internal biotic drivers of plant population dynamics is challenging due to the absence of relevant physiological and abundance information over appropriate space and time scales. Remote observations of giant kelp biomass and photosynthetic pigment concentrations are used to show that spatiotemporal patterns of physiological condition, and thus growth and production, are regulated by different processes depending on the scale of observation. Nutrient supply was linked to regional scale (>1 km) physiological condition dynamics, and kelp forest stands were more persistent where nutrient levels were consistently high. However, on local scales (<1 km), internal senescence processes related to canopy age demographics determined patterns of biomass loss across individual kelp forests despite uniform nutrient conditions. Repeat measurements of physiology over continuous spatial fields can provide insights into complex dynamics that are unexplained by the environmental drivers thought to regulate abundance. Emerging remote sensing technologies that provide simultaneous estimates of abundance and physiology can quantify the roles of environmental change and demographics governing plant population dynamics for a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    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. 
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  7. Satellite and aerial imagery have been used extensively for mapping the abundance and distribution of giant kelp ( Macrocystis pyrifera ) in southern California. There is now great potential for using unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) to map kelp canopy at very high resolutions. However, tides and currents have been shown to affect the amount of floating kelp canopy on the water surface, and the impacts of these processes on remotely sensed kelp estimates in this region have not been fully quantified. UAVs were used to map fine-scale changes in canopy area due to tidal height and current speed at kelp forests off the coast of Palos Verdes, CA and Santa Barbara, CA. An automated method for detecting kelp canopy was developed that was 67% accurate using red-green-blue (RGB) UAV imagery and 93% accurate using multispectral UAV imagery across a range of weather, ocean, and illumination conditions. Increases in tidal height of 1 m reduced the amount of floating kelp canopy by 15% in Santa Barbara and by over 30% in Palos Verdes. The effect of current speed on visible kelp canopy was inconclusive, but there was a trend towards lower canopy area with increased current speed. Therefore, while tidal height and current speed can introduce significant variability to estimates of kelp abundance, the magnitude of this variability is site specific. Still, UAVs are a valuable tool for mapping of kelp canopy and can provide greater spatial resolution and temporal coverage than is possible from many satellite sensors. This data can provide insight into the patterns and drivers of high frequency fluctuations in kelp abundance. 
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  8. These data describe 1987-2019 time series of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) biomass and associated environmental variables (wave height, nitrate concentration, climate indices) at quarterly and annual time intervals. Data for spatially resolvable variables (giant kelp biomass, wave height, nitrate concentration) pertain to 361 coastline segments (500 m length) in southern and central California where giant kelp was persistent over the sampling period. Data are contained in 5 tables: 1) quarterly time series of giant kelp biomass, wave height, and nitrate concentrations for 361 coastline segments; 2) quarterly time series of aspatial climate indices (NPGO, MEI, PDO); 3) annual time series of giant kelp biomass, wave height, and nitrate concentrations for 361 coastline segments; 4) annual time series of aspatial climate indices (NPGO, MEI, PDO); 5) locations (latitude and longitude of center) of coastline segments. Kelp data are derived from satellite imagery using empirical relationships. Wave data are derived from an empirically validated swell propagation model. Nitrate data are derived from empirical relationships with remotely-sensed sea surface temperature. 
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  9. Abstract

    Kelp forests are globally important and highly productive ecosystems, yet their persistence and protection in the face of climate change and human activity are poorly known. Here, we present a 35-year time series of high-resolution satellite imagery that maps the distribution and persistence of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests along ten degrees of latitude in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. We find that although 7.7% of giant kelp is protected by marine reserves, when accounting for persistence only 4% of kelp is present and protected. Protection of giant kelp decreases southerly from 20.9% in Central California, USA, to less than 1% in Baja California, Mexico, which likely exacerbates kelp vulnerability to marine heatwaves in Baja California. We suggest that a two-fold increase in the area of kelp protected by marine reserves is needed to fully protect persistent kelp forests and that conservation of climate-refugia in Baja California should be a priority.

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