Ecklonia maxima kelp forests along a thermal gradient: community composition and recovery from disturbance
Coppin, Ross Mark
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Climate change will influence species distributions, survival and ecosystem functioning, mostly through changes in sea surface temperatures and storm disturbance. Species are expected to shift poleward in response to ocean warming, which will increase species interaction strength, and cause tropicalisation of temperate ecosystems. Furthermore, if storm frequency and magnitude increases, this could have detrimental effects for species already on their thermal limits. One such group of coastal species is kelp. Kelp are ecosystem engineers that rely on cool-temperate water for survival, and which support an array of fauna and flora. Kelp-based ecosystems are also highly productive, and provide important inorganic input into coastal food webs, largely through detritus. Temperature and disturbance have been shown to be important drivers of kelp ecosystems globally, and we expect that local changes in these drivers may affect kelp ecosystem composition and functioning along the south-western Cape coastline where they form extensive habitats.