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Increasing frequency of ocean storms alters kelp forest ecosystems

How would increasingly frequent ocean storms affect the biodiversity of undersea kelp forests? Researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of California, Santa Barbara, report that more frequent storms could dramatically change the sea life along the California coast. The study is one of the few long-term experiments to look at how kelp forests -- major marine habitats around the world -- could change over time if predictions play out as scientists expect. Forecasts indicate that storm frequency and severity will increase, as is already happening in many coastal regions. The researchers counted and measured more than 200 species of plants, invertebrates and fish in kelp forests off Santa Barbara every three months over a nine-year period. They found that disturbances in which kelp forests were experimentally cut back and reduced year-after-year, as happens during severe winter storms with large waves, resulted in a doubling of smaller plants and invertebrates (algae, corals, anemones, sponges) attached to the seafloor. However, the disturbances also resulted in 30 to 61 percent fewer fish and shellfish, such as clams, sea urchins, starfish, lobsters and crabs.

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