Linking environmental variables with regional-scale variability in ecological structure and standing stock of carbon within UK kelp forests

Dan A. Smale, Michael T. Burrows, Ally J. Evans, Nathan King, Martin D. J. Sayer, Anna L. E. Yunnie, Pippa J. Moore

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Kelp forests represent some of the most productive and diverse habitats on Earth. Understanding drivers of ecological patterns at large spatial scales is critical for effective management and conservation of marine habitats. We surveyed kelp forests dominated by Laminaria hyperborea (Gunnerus) Foslie 1884 across 9° latitude and >1000 km of coastline and measured a number of physical parameters at multiple scales to link ecological structure and standing stock of carbon with environmental variables. Kelp density, biomass, morphology and age were generally greater in exposed sites within regions, highlighting the importance of wave exposure in structuring L. hyperborea populations. At the regional scale, wave-exposed kelp canopies in the cooler regions (the north and west of Scotland) were greater in biomass, height and age than in warmer regions (southwest Wales and England). The range and maximal values of estimated standing stock of carbon contained within kelp forests was greater than in historical studies, suggesting that this ecosystem property may have been previously undervalued. Kelp canopy density was positively correlated with large-scale wave fetch and fine-scale water motion, whereas kelp canopy biomass and the standing stock of carbon were positively correlated with large-scale wave fetch and light levels and negatively correlated with temperature. As light availability and summer temperature were important drivers of kelp forest biomass, effective management of human activities that may affect coastal water quality is necessary to maintain ecosystem functioning, while increased temperatures related to anthropogenic climate change may impact the structure of kelp forests and the ecosystem services they provide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-95
Number of pages16
JournalMarine Ecology-Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2016


  • Blue carbon
  • Coastal management
  • Laminaria hyperborea
  • Macroalgae
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Primary productivity
  • Subtidal rocky habitats
  • Temperate reefs

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