Kelp Forest Ecological & Social Systems

Rocky reef kelp forests are recognized globally as ecosystems that collapse and recover rapidly in response to environmental and biological perturbations. My research seeks to increase our understanding of the social-ecological dynamics associated with transitions occurring in the temperate kelp forests of British Columbia. Using field surveys, experiments, interviews and modeling I hope to identify thresholds that drive rocky reef community transitions, document the cascading effects of sea otter recovery on subtidal algal assemblages and characterize how coastal indigenous communities adapt to social and ecological trade-offs associated with sea otter recovery.


Monitoring ecological transitions in kelp forests

The purpose of this research is to monitor the ecological changes occurring as a function of sea otter recovery on rocky reefs along the Central Coast of BC. Using dive surveys at multiple reef sites I hope to (1) quantify the time frame of major ecological transition (sea urchin decline, kelp recovery) following sea otter introduction, (2) document changes over time in the kelp and invertebrate community structure in areas of recent sea otter introduction compared to sites that experience no change in otter occupancy, and (3) examine changes in the spatial extent of kelp canopy cover in the ‘transition sites’ over the period of sea otter re-occupation. These results will contribute to community-based marine use planning and ecosystem-based management that is currently being devised in the region.

Urchin barren pic

What influences sea urchin grazing rates?

This research combines experimental and survey methods to ask: 1) What is the functional relationship between urchin density and the per capita urchin grazing rate? and 2) What measurable factors best predict in situ urchin grazing rates? In June 2014 I conducted subtidal grazing experiments at eight rocky reef sites on the central coast of BC to quantify how the abundance, size and behaviour of red urchins (Mesocentrotus franciscanus), as well as drift abundance, wave exposure, and the presence of other algal species influence the rate of kelp loss.

Urchin pulling kelp pic

grazed kelp pic

Social adaptation to sea otter recovery

The connections between marine ecosystems and social systems are dynamic; human activities, values, and institutions in local communities adapt and change over time in response to changing environments. This research seeks to explore how coastal First Nation communities perceive the social and ecological benefits and values associated with nearshore rocky reef systems, how these benefits may be shifted as a result of sea otter reintroduction. Furthermore, I plan to investigate the factors perceived to influence the ability of First Nations communities to adapt to sea otter recovery, and whether these differ across communities with different “sea otter occupation histories.”

totem pic