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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 360:63-72 (2008)  -  DOI:

Recovering a lost baseline: missing kelp forests from a metropolitan coast

Sean D. Connell1,*, Bayden D. Russell1, David J. Turner2, Scoresby A. Shepherd3, Timothy Kildea4, David Miller5, Laura Airoldi6, Anthony Cheshire7

1Southern Seas Ecology Laboratories DX 650 418, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia
2Regional Conservation, Department for Environment and Heritage, GPO Box 1047, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia
3South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), PO Box 120, Henley Beach, South Australia 5022, Australia
4Australian Water Quality Centre, PMB 3, Salisbury, South Australia 5108, Australia
5Coast & Marine Conservation Branch, Natural and Cultural Heritage Directorate, Dept of Environment and Heritage, Keswick, South Australia 5035, Australia
6Università di Bologna, Via S. Alberto 163, 48100 Ravenna, Italy
7Science to Manage Uncertainty, 24 Winding Way, Belair, South Australia 5052, Australia

ABSTRACT: There is concern about historical and continuing loss of canopy-forming algae across the world’s temperate coastline. In South Australia, the sparse cover of canopy-forming algae on the Adelaide metropolitan coast has been of public concern with continuous years of anecdotal evidence culminating in 2 competing views. One view considers that current patterns existed before the onset of urbanisation, whereas the alternate view is that they developed after urbanisation. We tested hypotheses to distinguish between these 2 models, each centred on the reconstruction of historical covers of canopies on the metropolitan coast. Historically, the metropolitan sites were indistinguishable from contemporary populations of reference sites across 70 km (i.e. Gulf St. Vincent), and could also represent a random subset of exposed coastal sites across 2100 km of the greater biogeographic province. Thus there was nothing ‘special’ about the metropolitan sites historically, but today they stand out because they have sparser covers of canopies compared to equivalent locations and times in the gulf and the greater province. This is evidence of wholesale loss of canopy-forming algae (up to 70%) on parts of the Adelaide metropolitan coast since major urbanisation. These findings not only set a research agenda based on the magnitude of loss, but they also bring into question the logic that smaller metropolitan populations of humans create impacts that are trivial relative to that of larger metropolitan centres. Instead, we highlight a need to recognise the ecological context that makes some coastal systems more vulnerable or resistant to increasing human-domination of the world’s coastlines. We discuss challenges to this kind of research that receive little ecological discussion, particularly better leadership and administration, recognising that the systems we study out-live the life spans of individual research groups and operate on spatial scales that exceed the capacity of single research providers.

KEY WORDS: Urban coast · Turf · Canopy algae · Human impact · Anthropogenic · Nutrient · Historical baseline · Habitat loss

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Cite this article as: Connell SD, Russell BD, Turner DJ, Shepherd SA and others (2008) Recovering a lost baseline: missing kelp forests from a metropolitan coast. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 360:63-72.

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