Where, when and how? A guide to kelp restoration in California using spatio-temporal models of kelp dynamics.

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UC Sea Grant College Program
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Ecology and Evolution

Kelp is declining in California – not only in the North coast but throughout the state. Several conditions that contribute to kelp loss, such as marine heatwaves are predicted to increase in frequency and strength. While attention has focused on California’s north coast, where loss of bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana) has driven closures of fisheries, the entire state of CA is under threat of kelp forest decline, indeed, many areas of the central and south coasts have suffered losses of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and declines of important commercially and recreationally fished species. Kelp restoration is possible and is likely to become more prevalent in CA, but current efforts are ad hoc and in some cases not informed by science. The disconnect is interesting because CA has some of the best studied kelp systems in the world and a massive amount of readily available data. Here we propose to leverage the knowledge base and the existing data on California’s kelp forests by using statistical models (regionally and by species) to identify key ecological, oceanographic and management drivers of kelp persistence or recovery at the scales of the entire state. The distinction between ours and past work (including our own) is that for the first time, we will integrate data from in situ surveys of kelp forests (i.e. SCUBA surveys), remotely sensed variables, benthic habitat mapping, and management regimes. Model results are not a solution to kelp loss in themselves, but become so when they are interpreted and summarized into actionable restoration guidance. We will use the region-specific, species-specific results to highlight the places, the times and the techniques that stand the best chance of success for kelp restoration. We will build these restoration guides for use by managers who may be responsible for permitting and oversight, restoration practitioners who want to make the best use of time and resources, and funders looking to make sound investments. We will ensure that our results get incorporated in the statewide kelp forest research and restoration plan (Obj.3.2 of OPC strategic plan) and the CDFW kelp management plan. Finally, we will document and archive all model code and datasets such that the models can be updated annually as conditions change.