Scientific publication

Climate change to reshape kelp forest diversity

Climate change threatens to disrupt these underwater havens, but we can take action. Our new research provides a roadmap for conservation, highlighting regions most at risk and where protection efforts are most needed.

Credits: MBNMS on unsplash

Kelp forests, the vibrant underwater habitats found in temperate coastal regions, face a serious threat from climate change. Understanding how this shifting climate will alter kelp biodiversity and ecosystem health is essential, yet the full scope of potential changes remains unclear. This uncertainty hinders effective conservation and management, leaving these vital marine ecosystems vulnerable.

Our research team is addressing this knowledge gap. We’ve harnessed machine-learning models to project how climate change might affect the distribution and biodiversity of 105 different kelp species worldwide. Our models consider different climate scenarios, including a future where the Paris Agreement targets are met, and one with higher emissions. Our findings suggest that kelp species are likely to move towards the poles and into deeper waters as temperatures rise. The total area of suitable kelp habitat may decline by around 15%, with dramatic shifts in kelp communities occurring in the Arctic, Northern Pacific, Atlantic, and Australasia. If emissions remain high, some regions may experience severe biodiversity loss with important kelp species disappearing completely, impacting the overall health of the ecosystem.

This research offers a stark warning about the future of kelp forests, but it also provides a vital tool. Policymakers and conservationists can use our data to identify the areas where kelp biodiversity is most vulnerable, prioritize efforts to protect and possibly restore the most critical kelp habitats, and understand how marine ecosystems might change so conservation strategies can be adapted accordingly.

Main reference

Assis, J., Fragkopoulou, E., Gouvêa, L., Araújo, M. B., & Serrão, E. A. (2024). Kelp forest diversity under projected end-of-century climate change. Diversity and Distributions, 00, e13837.

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Jorge Assis [PhD, Associate Researcher]
Centre of Marine Sciences, University of Algarve [Faro, Portugal]
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