Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests are diverse and productive marine ecosystems that are important both ecologically and to key ecosystem services from fisheries to pharmaceuticals. UCSB is home to the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research project (SBC LTER), an interdisciplinary program investigating the processes shaping the structure and function of the giant kelp forest ecosystem. The SBC LTER is part of an NSF supported network of 28 sites conducting research on long term ecological phenomena.
Our projects in this area focus on the microbes (particularly bacteria and archaea) that live in, on, and around giant kelp, and dovetail with existing long term studies of this ecosystem. We track the diversity and population dynamics of the giant kelp microbiome with high throughput sequencing in parallel with long term biodiversity surveys of macro-organisms in this ecosystem. In focused projects working with long term studies of primary productivity, we are working to quantify the functional contributions of the microbiome to kelp productivity and the flux of organic matter to the surrounding environment.
Another exciting future area we are pursuing examines the biogeography and population genomics of kelp associated bacteria to assess the drivers of species distributions and population structures. SBC LTER studies indicate that both environmental (e.g. wave disturbance and nutrient availability) and metapopulation processes (e.g. connectivity) drive giant kelp biomass dynamics. How do the drivers of bacterial community dynamics compare to those affecting kelp and other macro-organisms in the ecosystem? What is the effect of host genetics on the structure of the kelp microbiome?