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KELPEX- Kelp export: fuel for adjacent communities in changing arctic ecosystems?

Kelp forests are one of the most emblematic ecosystems in the world. They form rich marine ecosystems with a high production and provide habitat for a wide variety of species. However, dramatic changes have occurred in Norwegian kelp forests in the last 4 decades, with forests disappearing along 2000 km2 because of the overgrazing of sea urchins. In the 1990s, a recovery of these barren grounds started in mid-Norway and the kelp forests are recovering northwards, driven by a decrease in sea urchins. Up to 80% of the kelp production is exported to adjacent ecosystems, but the role played by kelp detritus in providing food to the faunal communities living on the seafloor is poorly understood. It is thus important to better understand the relationship between kelp detritus and the microbial and animal communities on the seafloor in northern Norway, where kelp forests play a major ecological role but are experiencing major changes.


Photo: Kjell Magnus Norderhaug, NIVA.

KELPEX is a multidisciplinary project that will integrate research in kelp forest, biodiversity, coastal and deep-sea ecology and modelling, to determine the role played by kelp export in shaping the structure (abundance, biodiversity) and function (food webs) of surrounding ecosystems, both shallow and deep. KELPEX will conduct field experiments to quantify kelp production and export. The project will then look at the effect of kelp detritus on shallow-water and deep-sea microbial and animal communities, including commercial species such as the shrimp Pandalus borealis. Finally, available information on kelp forests, together with the KELPEX results from the field and lab work, will be used to develop and run ecological models. These models will be used to predict changes on the bottom communities related to potential changes of kelp forest coverage. This is particularly important in the current climate change scenario, which can influence the disappearance of kelp forests in certain areas. KELPEX results will provide robust scientific knowledge to support decision making and management of arctic ecosystems under different natural and climatic stressors.

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