Kelp Forest Study

aggi lara sheephead image by Robert Schwemmer

PISCO’s kelp forest monitoring has been running continuously since 1999 in shallow (5-20 m depth) nearshore sites located on rocky bottom habitat. Sites are situated across a range of oceanographic and oceanographic conditions, including different levels of coastal upwelling and inside and outside of marine protected areas. These surveys provide valuable data to help assess the causes and consequences of environmental changes. 



PISCO's monitoring approach quantifies the density and biomass of macroalgae, invertebrates and fishes within kelp forest communities. This produces a quantitative characterization of ecosystem attributes, including community structure, population abundance and size structure of ecologically and economically important species. Standardized sampling protocols across all PISCO institutions and partners are central to the value of this monitoring program, which directly informs management and policy actions on the west coast of the US and beyond. In addition to ecosystem monitoring, PISCO contributes to marine protected area design and evaluation by targeted studies focused on ecological interactions, population connectivity, and other research themes that are built on the time series effort. Our kelp forest monitoring program began in 1999 with a handful of sites established in southern and central California. Over the years, over a hundred additional sites have been added to meet scientific goals and management needs, including monitoring marine protected areas established in both California and Oregon. We work closely with our organizational partners in California to train divers, conduct surveys, and share data. The first PISCO surveys in Oregon were in 2002-2004. With the establishment of a state marine reserves program, a volunteer science diver program at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and a growing science dive program at Oregon State University, surveys in Oregon are currently done by a joint agency volunteer scientific diver program, led by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Our subtidal program measures recruitment of fish species to kelp forests using a sampling tool called a "SMURF" (Standard Monitoring Unit for the Recruitment of Fishes). SMURFs are constructed of materials that mimic the protective habitat of a kelp forest canopy, where many young fishes settle after months as larvae adrift on the ocean currents. Young fish that settle in these sampling units are collected, identified, and sized to evaluate the patterns of fish recruitment. In addition, PISCO scientists monitor a variety of ecologically and commercially important invertebrate species on artificial substrata deployed on moorings near kelp forests. Our recruitment time series have documented sensitivities to El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycles and interannual changes in upwelling. The longest time series is in California, dating back to 2000 in Southern and Central California. In Oregon, similar methods to monitor fish recruitment within and outside of marine reserves are used by collaborators at Oregon State University and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Time series of rockfish recruitment critically complement annual offshore surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and have been used to establish settlement patterns important for stock assessments.




Coming soon! In the meantime, contact us.