Carbon assimilation and transfer through kelp forests in the NE Atlantic is diminished under a warmer ocean climate

Albert Pessarrodona, Pippa J. Moore, Martin D. J. Sayer, Dan A. Smale

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Global climate change is affecting carbon cycling by driving changes in primary productivity and rates of carbon fixation, release and storage within Earth's vegetated systems. There is, however, limited understanding of how carbon flow between donor and recipient habitats will respond to climatic changes. Macroalgal‐dominated habitats, such as kelp forests, are gaining recognition as important carbon donors within coastal carbon cycles, yet rates of carbon assimilation and transfer through these habitats are poorly resolved. Here, we investigated the likely impacts of ocean warming on coastal carbon cycling by quantifying rates of carbon assimilation and transfer in Laminaria hyperborea kelp forests—one of the most extensive coastal vegetated habitat types in the NE Atlantic—along a latitudinal temperature gradient. Kelp forests within warm climatic regimes assimilated, on average, more than three times less carbon and donated less than half the amount of particulate carbon compared to those from cold regimes. These patterns were not related to variability in other environmental parameters. Across their wider geographical distribution, plants exhibited reduced sizes toward their warm‐water equatorward range edge, further suggesting that carbon flow is reduced under warmer climates. Overall, we estimated that Laminaria hyperborea forests stored ~11.49 Tg C in living biomass and released particulate carbon at a rate of ~5.71 Tg C year−1. This estimated flow of carbon was markedly higher than reported values for most other marine and terrestrial vegetated habitat types in Europe. Together, our observations suggest that continued warming will diminish the amount of carbon that is assimilated and transported through temperate kelp forests in NE Atlantic, with potential consequences for the coastal carbon cycle. Our findings underline the need to consider climate‐driven changes in the capacity of ecosystems to fix and donate carbon when assessing the impacts of climate change on carbon cycling.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Early online date3 Jun 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jun 2018


  • coastal management
  • Laminaria hyperborea
  • Macroalgae
  • ocean warming
  • Primary productivity
  • Subtidal rocky habitats
  • Temperate reefs
  • trophic subsidies


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