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PLoS One 2022 May 05;175:e0267737. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0267737.
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Winter oceanographic conditions predict summer bull kelp canopy cover in northern California.

García-Reyes M , Thompson SA , Rogers-Bennett L , Sydeman WJ .

Bull kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, is an iconic kelp forest species of the Northeast Pacific that provides a wide range of ecosystem services to coastal marine species and society. In northern California, U.S.A., Nereocystis abundance declined sharply in 2014 and has yet to recover. While abiotic and biotic stressors were present prior to 2014, the population collapse highlights the need for a better understanding of how environmental conditions impact Nereocystis. In this study, we used a newly-developed, satellite-based dataset of bull kelp abundance, proxied by canopy cover over 20 years, to test the hypothesis that winter oceanographic conditions determine summer Nereocystis canopy cover. For the years before the collapse (1991 through 2013), wintertime ocean conditions, synthesized in a Multivariate Ocean Climate Indicator (MOCI), were indeed a good predictor of summer Nereocystis canopy cover (R2 = 0.40 to 0.87). We attribute this relationship to the effects of upwelling and/or temperature on nutrient availability. South of Point Arena, California, winter ocean conditions had slightly lower explanatory power than north of Point Arena, also reflective of spring upwelling-driven nutrient entrainment. Results suggest that the Nereocystis gametophytes and/or early sporophytes are sensitive to winter oceanographic conditions. Furthermore, environmental conditions in winter 2014 could have been used to predict the Nereocystis collapse in summer 2014, and for kelp north of Point Arena, a further decline in 2015. Importantly, environmental models do not predict changes in kelp after 2015, suggesting biotic factors suppressed kelp recovery, most likely extreme sea urchin herbivory. Conditions during winter, a season that is often overlooked in studies of biophysical interactions, are useful for predicting summer Nereocystis kelp forest canopy cover, and will be useful in supporting kelp restoration actions in California and perhaps elsewhere in the world.

PubMed ID: 35511813
PMC ID: PMC9070938
Article link: PLoS One

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