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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14083

Variability in grazing on juvenile giant kelp throughout an upwelling season

Crystal A. Ng*, Fiorenza Micheli

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Upwelling provides high amounts of nutrients that support primary production in coastal habitats, including giant kelp forests (Macrocystis pyrifera). Growth and recruitment of kelp forests are controlled by environmental conditions, including temperature, nutrient availability, and storms, as well as biotic interactions. However, our understanding of juvenile persistence in the field is extremely limited, particularly the effects of grazing on the survival of early kelp stages and how environmental variability associated with upwelling dynamics may modulate grazing effects. We quantified herbivore impacts on juvenile M. pyrifera by deploying thirteen 24-hour caging experiments approximately every two weeks throughout the upwelling season in a giant kelp forest in Monterey Bay, CA, USA. Experiments spanned a range of natural environmental variation in oxygen, pH, and temperature, conditions known to affect grazer physiology and that are projected to become more extreme under global climate change. Overall, the herbivore community had large effects on kelp survival, with 68.5% of juvenile kelp removed on average across experiments. Grazing increased throughout the season, which was most strongly correlated with decreasing monthly oxygen variance and weakly correlated with decreasing monthly pH variance and increasing temperature. This suggests that large swings in oxygen during peak kelp recruitment in Spring may provide a temporal refuge from grazing, allowing kelp to reach larger sizes by late Summer and Fall when upwelling has relaxed. This study highlights the potential of current environmental variability, and its predicted increase under future scenarios, to mediate species interactions and habitat persistence.