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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13510

Multi-decadal decline in cover of giant kelp forests (Macrocystis pyrifera) at the southern limit of its Australian range

Claire L. Butler*, Vanessa L. Lucieer, Simon J. Wotherspoon, Craig R. Johnson

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Knowledge of long-term and multi-scale trends is a vital component in understanding the dynamics of ecological systems. We used Landsat satellite imagery to develop the first long-term (1986–2015) data set describing the cover of dense surface canopies of giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera around the entire coastline of Tasmania, Australia, and assessed the extent to which potential environmental drivers explain the dynamics of surface canopies at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Broad-scale temporal patterns in canopy cover are correlated with El Niño Southern Oscillation events, while regional patterns are related to sea surface temperature and nutrient regimes associated with the East Australian Current. Regression models developed to predict the presence or absence of giant kelp canopy emphasise the importance of sea surface temperature in these systems. Long-term decline in canopy cover is clearly evident in most regions, and in light of increasing thermal stress associated with a changing ocean climate, this raises concern for the future of this species as a major habitat-forming kelp in Australia and some other regions worldwide. Given that Tasmania represents the stronghold of the range of this species in Australia, but is a geographic trap in that there is not suitable habitat for M. pyrifera to the south, our findings support federal listing of giant kelp communities in Australia as an endangered marine community type.