Large-scale degradation of a kelp ecosystem in an ocean warming hotspot

Karen Filbee-Dexter, Colette Feehan, Robert E. Scheibling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Understanding the impacts of climate change on biological systems requires observational data over multi-decadal time spans and broad spatial scales. Extensive research at an ocean warming hotspot off Nova Scotia, Canada, enabled us to evaluate the impact of 3 decades of observed temperature rise on a coastal marine ecosystem. Here, we document changes in the kelp community from sites monitored since 1949, 1968 and 1984, and from coastal surveys in 1982, 2000, 2007 and 2014. We show that mean kelp biomass has declined by 85-99% over the past 4-6 decades, and a catastrophic phase shift has occurred from luxuriant kelp beds to rocky reefs dominated by opportunistic turf-forming and invasive algae. This shift likely represents a persistent change, driven by multiple biotic and abiotic interactions, with positive feedback mechanisms (e.g. sediment accumulation) that stabilize the invasive/turf-algal state. This study is the first to show multi-decadal declines in kelp related to warming temperatures in the Northwest Atlantic. The large-scale degradation of an important coastal ecosystem within a warming hotspot presents a troubling example of the instability of marine systems in a rapidly changing ocean environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-152
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Volume543
DOIs
StatePublished - 3 Feb 2016

Fingerprint

macroalgae
hot spot
warming
oceans
degradation
ecosystems
ecosystem
ocean
lawns and turf
algae
feedback mechanism
marine ecosystem
Nova Scotia
reef
temperature
alga
reefs
climate change
biomass
Canada

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Invasive seaweeds
  • Kelp beds
  • Phase shift
  • Rocky reefs
  • Seawater temperature
  • Turf algae

Cite this

Filbee-Dexter, Karen ; Feehan, Colette ; Scheibling, Robert E. / Large-scale degradation of a kelp ecosystem in an ocean warming hotspot. In: Marine Ecology Progress Series. 2016 ; Vol. 543. pp. 141-152.
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Large-scale degradation of a kelp ecosystem in an ocean warming hotspot. / Filbee-Dexter, Karen; Feehan, Colette; Scheibling, Robert E.

In: Marine Ecology Progress Series, Vol. 543, 03.02.2016, p. 141-152.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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