The strength of giants

When an intense heatwave hit the Pacific in 2014, scientists feared the worst for the giant kelp residing there, due to the sensitive nature of the beautiful underwater forests. But, it seems, they need not have worried.

The expectation was that Macrocystis pyrifera would suffer greatly in the warmer waters and the resulting conditions of lower nutrients. The kelp does not have the capacity to store nutrients for long periods, and each frond has a short life span of around 3 months, so it is a species that would be expected to show rapid responses to a unfavourable change in their environment. The researchers can happily report that, despite being made to feel the heat, the kelp forests stood firm.

“The response we saw in kelp was really no different than what we’d seen in our records,” said author Daniel Reed. “The values were low, but not necessarily lower than what we’d seen during cool water years.”

Though the future is, as always, uncertain, the finding could be good news for kelp forests and how they respond to ongoing climate warming, not to mention the mass of marine life they shelter and support.


Originally published in News in Brief – Biosphere Magazine Issue 22

Reed, D, Washburn, L, Rassweiler, A. et al (2016) Extreme warming challenges sentinel status of kelp forests as indicators of climate change. Nature Communications doi:10.1038/ncomms13757


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