Fragmented kelp forest canopies retain their ability to alter local seawater chemistry

Kelp forests support some of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on Earth, and their ability to uptake dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) allows them to modify local seawater chemistry, creating gradients in carbon, pH, and oxygen in their vicinity. By taking up both bicarbonate and CO2 as a carbon source for photosynthesis, kelp forests can act as carbon sinks, reducing nearby acidity and increasing dissolved oxygen; creating conditions conducive to calcification. Recent stressors, however, have reduced kelp forest canopies globally; converting once large and persistent forests to fragmented landscapes of small kelp patches. In a two-year study, we determined whether fragmented kelp patches retained the ability to alter local seawater chemistry. We found that diel fluctuations of multiple parameters of carbonate chemistry were greater in the kelp canopy than in the kelp benthos and in adjacent urchin barrens, consistent with metabolic activity by the kelp. Further, kelp fragments increased pH and aragonite saturation and decreased pCO2 during the day to a similar degree as large, intact kelp forests. We conclude that small kelp patches could mitigate OA stress and serve as spatial and temporal refugia for canopy-dwelling organisms, though this effect is temporary and confined to daylight hours during the growing season.

Murie K. A. & Bourdeau P. E., 2020. Fragmented kelp forest canopies retain their ability to alter local seawater chemistry. Scientific Reports 10: 11939. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-68841-2. Article.

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