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Synchrony in dynamics of giant kelp forests is driven by both local recruitment and regional environmental controls

  • Cavanaugh, Kyle C
  • Kendall, Bruce E
  • Siegel, David A
  • Reed, Daniel C
  • Alberto, Filipe
  • Assis, Jorge
Publication Date
Feb 01, 2013
eScholarship - University of California
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Populations of many species display spatially synchronous fluctuations in abundance. Synchrony is most commonly attributed to three processes: factors that influence recruitment (e.g., dispersal, early survival), large-scale environmental variability, and spatially autocorrelated trophic interactions. However it is often difficult to link population synchrony to a specific dominant process, particularly when multiple synchronizing forces are operating. We utilized a new satellite-based data set of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) canopy biomass to examine population synchrony in southern California kelp forests on spatial scales ranging from 50 m to 300 km and temporal scales ranging from 1 to 11 years. We examined the relationship between synchrony and distance for adult kelp populations, kelp recruits, sea urchin abundance (a major grazer of kelp), and environmental variables known to influence kelp population dynamics. Population synchrony in giant kelp decreased with distance between populations: an initial rapid exponential decrease between 50 m and 1.3 km was followed by a second, large-scale decrease between distances of 1.3 km and 172 km. The 50-m to 1.3-km spatial scale corresponded to the scales of synchrony in the abundance of sea urchins and young kelp recruits, suggesting that local drivers of predation and recruitment influence small-scale synchrony in kelp populations. The spatial correlation patterns of environmental variables, particularly wave height, were similar to the synchrony–distance relationship of kelp populations from 1.3 km to 172 km, suggesting that regional environmental variability, i.e., the Moran effect, was the dominant process affecting synchrony at larger spatial scales. This two-step pattern in the relationship between kelp biomass synchrony and distance was apparent in each of the 11 years of our study. Our results highlight the potential for synthesizing approaches from both landscape and population ecology in order to identify the multiple processes that generate synchrony in population dynamics.

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