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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 656:163-180 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13426

Ecosystem-level effects of large-scale disturbance in kelp forests

K. M. Norderhaug1,2,*, K. Filbee-Dexter1,3, C. Freitas1,4, S.-R. Birkely5, L. Christensen1, I. Mellerud1, J. Thormar1, T. van Son1, F. Moy1, M. Vázquez Alonso1, H. Steen1

1Institute of Marine Research (IMR), Nye Flødevigen vei 20, 4817 His, Norway
2University of Oslo, Department of Biosciences, PO Box 1066 Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway
3University of Western Australia, School of Biological Sciences, 35 Stirling Hwy, Perth, WA 6009, Australia
4Marine and Environmental Sciences Center, Madeira Tecnopolo, 9020-105 Funchal, Portugal
5Institute of Marine Research (IMR), Hjalmar Johansens Gate 14, 9294 Tromsø, Norway
*Corresponding author:
Advance View was available online September 24, 2020

ABSTRACT: Understanding the effects of ecological disturbances in coastal habitats is crucial and timely as these are anticipated to increase in intensity and frequency in the future due to increasing human pressure. In this study we used directed kelp trawling as a scientific tool to quantify the impacts of broad-scale disturbance on community structure and function. We tested the ecosystem-wide effects of this disturbance in a BACI design using two 15 km2 areas. The disturbance had a substantial impact on the kelp forests in this study, removing 2986 tons of kelp and causing a 26% loss of total kelp canopy at trawled stations. This loss created a 67% reduction of epiphytes, an 89% reduction of invertebrates and altered the fish populations living within these habitats. The effect of habitat loss on fish was variable and depended on how the different species used the habitat structure. Our results show that large-scale experimental disturbances on habitat-forming species have ecological consequences that extend beyond the decline of the single species to affect multiple trophic levels of the broader ecosystem. Our findings have relevance for understanding how increasing anthropogenic disturbances, including kelp trawling and increased storm frequency caused by climate change, may alter ecosystem structure and function.


KEY WORDS: Laminaria hyperborea · Habitat loss · Community structure · Kelp trawling


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Cite this article as: Norderhaug KM, Filbee-Dexter K, Freitas C, Birkely SR and others (2020) Ecosystem-level effects of large-scale disturbance in kelp forests. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 656:163-180. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13426

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