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Kelp forests

Kelp forests

Kelp forests: Kelp Forests are underwater ecosystems formed in shallow water by the dense growth of several different species known as kelps. Though they look very much like plants, kelps are actually extremely large brown algae. Some species can reach heights (underwater) of 150 feet (45 m), and under ideal physical conditions, kelp can grow 18 inches (45 cm) in a single day.

  • Conditions required for growth: Kelp are large brown algae that live in cool waters close to the shore. These dense canopies of algae generally occur in nutrient-rich waters. Because of their dependency upon light for photosynthesis, kelp forests form in shallow open waters and are rarely found deeper than 49-131 feet. They grow in dense groupings much like a forest on land.

Kelps live further from the tropics than coral reefs, mangrove forests, and warm-water seagrass beds, so kelp forests do not overlap with those systems.

Kelp can sometimes persist at lower latitudes, aided by cool water upwelling or in deep-water refugia where they are protected by thermocline (the transition layer between the warmer mixed water at the surface and the cooler deep water below).

  • Sea urchins can destroy entire kelp forests at a rate of 30 feet per month by moving in herds. Sea otters play a key role in stabilizing sea urchin populations so that kelp forests may thrive.
  • Significance:
    • Under water towers of kelp provide food and shelter for thousands of fish, invertebrates, and marine mammal species.
    • Kelp forests harbor a greater variety and higher diversity of plants and animals than almost any other ocean community.
    • Giant kelp is harvested from kelp forests and used as a binding agent in products like ice cream, cereal, ranch dressing, yogurt, toothpaste, lotion and more.
  • Contemporary climate change is threatening the high and unique genetic diversity found among low-latitude range-edge populations s these locations are undergoing warming at or beyond thermal tolerance thresholds.

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