The Nielsen Lab
Marine Ecology
Science of the salty, the slimy & the spineless in the sea

Scaling Up from Community to Meta-Ecosystem Dynamics in the Rocky Intertidal:
A Comparative Experimental Approach

We are working to understand how variability in oceanographic subsidies such as nutrients and phytoplankton influences benthic community structure in the northern California Current Large Marine Ecosystem.  Research is being conducted at 15 sites nested within five capes spanning 1300 km within the study region.  A comprehensive suite of comparative field experiments and oceanographic monitoring is currently underway and will advance our understanding of how biological interactions vary under different levels of ecological subsidies.  The project should provide insight into the consequences of predicted changes in upwelling regimes due to climate change.

Collecting Sea Palms: Planning for Sustainable Use in a Variable Environment

We are assessing the sustainability of commercial sea palm take from wild populations. The sea palm, Postelsia palmaeformis, is a charismatic intertidal zone seaweed that is endemic to the wave-swept, rocky shores of western North America.  It is an annual, with a typical kelp life history, and its spores typically disperse only a few meters from the parent plant. A rapidly growing commercial market exists for seaweeds and sea palm in particular. Demand is driven in part due to the health benefits of seaweeds, culinary interests in local foods, as well as raw, Asian, indigenous and other cuisines that regularly incorporate seaweeds into their dishes.  California Pomo and Miwok Indians have also traditionally gathered and used sea palm and other seaweeds in their diet.  Virtually all the commercial take of sea palm is from wild populations in northern California.  Local populations are vulnerable to extinction as some collection methods can kill the seaweed before it reproduces, however most reputable seaweed collectors do not collect sea palm this way. Although Although there is no regulation or management of the commercial sea palm ‘harvest’ in California aside from purchasing a commercial collecting permit. But ironically, both sport fishing and standard scientific collecting permits specifically prohibit the take of sea palm altogether.  However, most reputable collectors in the region use a frond trimming method, in concert with informal territorial agreements that has the potential to be the basis of a sustainable management plan for this growing 'fishery'.  We are conducting controlled field experiments to determine when and how often sea palm can be taken using the frond-trimming method before there are negative impacts to the populations (with special permission from DFG).  This information is critical for informing development of regulations that will ensure truly sustainable take for the future in the face of a rapidly growing market for this species.

Collaborators: Carol Blanchette

Ocean Observing

The food webs and habitats (such as kelp forests) that sustain marine organisms including urchins, abalone, salmon, rockfish, elephant seals, auklets and whales (to name just a few) are highly sensitive to changes in ocean conditions or climate.  We are monitoring the abundance of phytoplankton, ocean temperatures and light attenuation at many rocky intertidal sites in Oregon and California to: 1) build our understanding of how the base of marine food webs in the nearshore zone responds to changing ocean climate, and 2) contribute to the growing regional and national networks of dedicated ocean observing systems.  Like weather stations on land ocean observing systems provide critical information for understanding ocean climate.



Funding: NOAA, PISCO

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