of Santa Barbara and found that increasing storm frequency -- as predicted by some climate change models -- could dramatically alter the ratios and types of sea life that live along the California coastline.
"We found that the frequency of disturbance was the most important factor influencing kelp forest biodiversity, whereas the severity of disturbance in a given year played a minor role," said lead researcher Max Castorani, a professor of environmental sciences at UVA.
Study - Oct - Journal - Ecology - Scientists
The study appears online Oct. 30 in the journal Ecology, and comes as scientists are trying to anticipate the ecological consequences of a changing climate. It is among the few long-term experiments to look into how kelp forests, which are major coastal marine habitats throughout the world, could change over time if climate model predictions play out in nature as many scientists expect. Some climate forecasts indicate that storm frequency and severity will increase, as already is happening in some regions.
To arrive at their findings, the researchers counted and measured more than 200 species of plants, invertebrates and fishes in large experimental and control kelp forests off Santa Barbara every three months over a nine-year period. They found that annual disturbances where kelp forests were experimentally cut back and reduced year-after-year, as happens during severe winter storms involving large waves, resulted in a doubling of smaller plants and invertebrates attached to the seafloor (algae, corals, anemones, sponges), but also resulted in 30 to 61 percent fewer fish and shellfish, such as clams, sea urchins, starfish, lobsters and crabs.
Findings - Winter - Storm - Changes - Biodiversity
"Our findings surprised us because we expected that a single severe winter storm would result in big changes to kelp forest biodiversity," Castorani said. "Instead, the number of disturbances over time had the greatest impact because frequent disturbances suppress the recovery of giant kelp, with large consequences for the surrounding...
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