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EARTH SCIENCE | BIOSPHERE | ECOSYSTEMS | MARINE ECOSYSTEMS | COASTAL | KELP FOREST

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  • Out-of-range observations of significant rafts of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) washing ashore in southern NSW in winter 2020. On 9 August 2020, two local marine naturalists on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia noticed a significant amount of a large unfamiliar kelp washed up on a local beach. Following some quick confirmations via phone and email, it was revealed that the unfamiliar seaweed was giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera): a species whose closest known populations are ~450 km away to the south (in Tasmania and western Victoria) and whose transport to New South Wales would have required oceanic rafting over several weeks and hundreds of kilometres against the prevailing south-flowing East Australian Current. Subsequent community-led searches over the following days confirmed four more locations of often-substantial amounts of giant kelp wrack, as well as many more anecdotal and unconfirmed accounts.

  • Ecosystems provide numerous services and benefits to society. While historically overlooked, these services are increasingly recognized and are now being mapped and accounted for. There are several approaches to mapping and evaluating these ecosystem services. In this report, we use two increasingly common approaches, Ocean Accounting and Welfare Economics, to evaluate ecosystem services for the Great Southern Reef. The Great Southern Reef is a network of rocky reefs dominated by temperate algal forests known as kelp. It spans over 8,000 Km of coastline and supports two thirds of the Australian population. Despite its presumed importance, there has been little work quantifying the extent and value of the ecosystem services provided by the Great Southern Reef. Through a systematic review we assessed the current state of knowledge of the ecosystem services provided by the Great Southern Reef. Using the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) framework, we created an overview of the ecosystem services (provisioning, regulating, and cultural) provided by the Great Southern Reef in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia. We then created metrics to quantify how these services benefit coastal societies in these five states. Highlight summaries include over 17 million Australians who live within 50 Km of the reef, 26 wild seaweed harvest companies, 115 tourism SCUBA operators, 1436 mapped dive sites, 18 million tourist visits each year, 16 temperate marine biology university programs, 43 books and films, key medical products, 23 tons of harvested seaweed, 1116 grams of carbon per m2 used for growth each year, 2,361 peer-reviewed scientific publications from 1976 to 2022, 186 marine protected areas, 2.16 million recreational fishers, and over 28 commercial fisheries with 20,000 tons of biomass taken each year. We then conducted economic evaluations using these biophysical values and the available information. Using a variety of approaches, we found that the total economic value of the Great Southern Reef was $11.56 billion each year. Individually the values were as follows, commercial fishing (producer surplus - $33.2 million), carbon sequestration (avoided damages - $37.8 million), nutrient cycling (avoided damages - $6,484 million), recreational fishing (consumer surplus - $1,668 million), diving and snorkelling (consumer surplus - $403 million), other recreational activities (consumer surplus $1,836 million), and the existence value (consumer surplus - $1,096 million).

  • Sea urchins have the capacity to destructively overgraze kelp beds and cause a wholesale shift to an alternative and stable ‘urchin barren’ state. However, their destructive grazing behaviour can be highly labile and contingent on behavioural shifts at the individual and local population level. Changes in supply of allochthonous food sources, i.e. availability of drift-kelp, is often suggested as a proximate trigger of change in sea urchin grazing behaviour, yet field tests of this hypothesis are rare. Here we conduct a suite of in situ behavioural surveys and manipulative experiments within kelp beds and on urchin barrens to examine foraging movements and evidence for a behavioural switch to an overgrazing mode by the Australian sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma (Echinometridae). Tracking of urchins using time-lapse photography revealed urchin foraging to broadly conform to a random-walk-model within both kelp beds and on barren grounds, while at the individual level there was a tendency towards local ‘homing’ to proximate crevices. However, consistent with locally observed ‘mobile feeding fronts’ that can develop at the barrens-kelp interface, urchins were experimentally inducible to show directional movement toward newly available kelp. Furthermore, field assays revealed urchin grazing rates to be high on both simulated drift-kelp and attached kelp thalli on barren grounds, however drift-kelp but not attached kelp was consumed at high rates within kelp beds. Time-lapse tracking of urchin foraging before/ after the controlled addition of drift-kelp on barrens revealed a reduction in foraging movement across the reef surface when drift-kelp was captured. Collectively results indicate that the availability of drift-kelp is a pivotal trigger in determining urchin feeding modes, which is demonstrably passive and cryptic in the presence of a ready supply of drift-kelp. Recovery of kelp beds therefore appears possible if a sustained influx of drift-kelp was to inundate urchin barrens, particularly on reefs where local urchin densities and where grazing pressure is close to the threshold enabling kelp bed recovery.

  • The recruitment of mussels and microphytobenthic (MPB) algae to 28 experimental artificial reefs supporting different patch sizes and density of kelp (Ecklonia radiata) off Maria Island, Tasmania. The recruitment of mussels was assessed using rope fibre habitats, and the recruitment of MPB algae was assessed using microscope slides, positioned across the artificial reef and collected in November 2015. These data were collected to examine how the patch size and density of kelp influences the establishment of MPB algae and mussels.

  • Biogenic marine habitats are increasingly threatened by a multitude of human impacts, and temperate coasts in particular are exposed to progressively more intense and frequent anthropogenic stressors. In this study, the single and multiple effects of the urban stressors of nutrification and sedimentation on kelp bed communities were examined within Australia’s largest urbanised embayment (Port Phillip Bay, Victoria). Within this system, grazing by sea urchins (Heliocidaris erythrogramma) plays an important role in structuring reef communities by overgrazing kelp beds and maintaining an alternative and stable urchin barrens state. It is therefore important to explore the effects of urban stressors on kelp bed dynamics related to urchin abundance, and test the relative strengths of bottom-up and / or physical drivers (e.g. elevated nutrients and sediment) versus top-down (e.g. urchin grazing) forces on kelp bed community structure. The interactions of these drivers were assessed to determine whether their combination has synergistic, antagonistic, or additive effects on kelp beds. It was found that kelp responds positively to nutrient enhancement, but when combined with enhanced abundance of grazing sea urchins, the local positive effect of nutrient enhancement is overwhelmed by the negative effect of increased herbivory. Turf-forming algae behaved very differently, showing no detectable response to nutrification, yet showing a positive response to urchins, apparently mediated by overgrazing of canopy-forming algae that limit turf development. No direct effects of enhanced sediment load (at twice the ambient load) were found on intact kelp beds. Collectively, the results demonstrate that the ‘top-down’ control of urchin grazing locally overwhelms the positive ‘bottom-up’ effect of nutrient enhancement, and that intact kelp beds demonstrate resilience to direct impacts of urban stressors.

  • The abundance of macroinvertebrates associated with 28 experimental artificial reefs supporting different patch sizes and density of kelp (Ecklonia radiata) off Maria Island, Tasmania. Macroinvertebrates were assessed by diver-based visual census conducted between November 2015 and December 2016. This data was collected to examine how the patch size and density of kelp influences the establishment of macroinvertebrate assemblages.

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    Data accompanying Layton et al. 2019, Resilience and stability of kelp forests: the importance of patch dynamics and environment-engineer feedbacks. PLOS ONE. To explore how resilience and stability of kelp habitats is influenced by this habitat degradation, we created an array of patch reefs of various sizes and supporting adult Ecklonia radiata kelp transplanted at different densities. This enabled testing of how sub-canopy abiotic conditions change with reductions in patch size and adult kelp density, and how this influenced demographic processes of microscopic and macroscopic juvenile kelp.

  • -- Layton et al. Chemical microenvironments within macroalgal assemblages: implications for the inhibition of kelp recruitment by turf algae. Limnology & Oceanography. DOI:10.1002/lno.11138 -- Kelp forests around the world are under increasing pressure from anthropogenic stressors. A widespread consequence is that in many places, complex and highly productive kelp habitats have been replaced by structurally simple and less productive turf algae habitats. Turf algae habitats resist re-establishment of kelp via recruitment inhibition; however little is known about the specific mechanisms involved. One potential factor is the chemical environment within the turf algae and into which kelp propagules settle and develop. Using laboratory trials, we illustrate that the chemical microenvironment (O2 concentration and pH) 0.0–50 mm above the benthos within four multispecies macroalgal assemblages (including a turf-sediment assemblage and an Ecklonia radiata kelp-dominated assemblage) are characterised by elevated O2 and pH relative to the surrounding seawater. Notably however, O2 and pH were significantly higher within turf-sediment assemblages than in kelp-dominated assemblages, and at levels that have previously been demonstrated to impair the photosynthetic or physiological capacity of kelp propagules. Field observations of the experimental assemblages confirmed that recruitment of kelp was significantly lower into treatments with dense turf algae than in the kelp-dominated assemblages. We demonstrate differences between the chemical microenvironments of kelp and turf algae assemblages that correlate with differences in kelp recruitment, highlighting how degradation of kelp habitats might result in the persistence of turf algae habitats and the localised absence of kelp.

  • NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub Project E7. Results from the outplanting of lab-selected and cultivated warm-adapted genotypes of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera), at two trial restoration sites. A third restoration trial site had no surviving kelp, so those data were not included here. Data and details from lab-selection experiments can be found in the associated dataset - "NESP Marine Hub Project E7 - Macrocystis pyrifera thermal tolerance testing" https://metadata.imas.utas.edu.au/geonetwork/srv/eng/catalog.search#/metadata/0b91d7fd-7d29-452f-954a-78cf75151035

  • Intraspecific variation in the thermal tolerance of microscopic giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) sporophytes was tested using a common garden experiment, where 49 unique family-lines were raised under four different water temperatures (12, 16, 20, and 24°C). The unique family-lines were taken from ongoing giant kelp gametophyte cultures held at IMAS, and represented F1 offspring from seven 'selfed' individuals collected from 6 sites across ~250km in Tasmania, Australia, in addition to a site-level cross from each of the sites, and a panmictic cross using the 42 pure family lines. Survivorship of the selected warm-adapted family-lines after outplanting trials at restoration sites can be found here with the associated dataset "NESP Marine Hub Project E7 outplanted kelp survivorship". https://metadata.imas.utas.edu.au/geonetwork/srv/eng/catalog.search#/metadata/908afd8c-cc7a-4ea3-a87e-4497ae8da87a