The restoration of Australia’s kelp forests, with a focus on Tasmania’s disappearing giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) in a changing climate

Cayne Layton

Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.

cayne.layton@utas.edu.au

Kelp forests are the foundation of the Great Southern Reef, Australia’s continent-wide temperate reef system that supports high levels of biodiversity, endemism, and economic value. Unfortunately, in Australia and elsewhere kelp forests are declining due to climate change, overgrazing from herbivores, coastal development, and pollution. One potential tool in the conservation and management of these ecosystems is habitat restoration; the science and practice of which is currently undergoing substantial expansion. We summarise the status of Australian kelp forests and their restoration, and focus on work in Tasmania where ~95% of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) surface canopies have disappeared over recent decades. We outline the key driver of giant kelp forest loss in Tasmania – increasing water temperatures and associated reductions in coastal nutrients – and present a novel restoration approach involving the identification, breeding, and outplanting of more thermally-tolerant giant kelp genotypes. This work is the foundation of potential future efforts to maintain and restore kelp forest resilience in an ocean warming hotspot, and addresses critical knowledge-gaps to provide risk-management to restoration in a rapidly changing climate.

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