Any kelp-bearing area will contain a number of habitats available for other biota. The
faunal diversity of kelp biotopes is extremely rich owing to the available primary,
secondary and microbally-recycled production and also to the structural diversity within
the habitat with many and various exploitable niches available. The floral diversity
within kelp communities is also great with colonization occurring epiphytically on kelp
plants or less independently on the surrounding substrata. Drach (1949) pointed out the
importance of this and calculated that the rugose stipes of Laminaria hyperborea
provide a settlement area of one and a half times that of the rock surface. Epiflora
recorded for Laminaria hyperborea stipes includes Palmaria palmata, Phycodrys
rubens, Membranoptera alata, Ptilota gunneri and Cryptopleura ramosa
(Marshall 1960; Whittick 1969). Stipes of Laminaria digitata although smooth, can
support a considerable epiphytic flora, mainly of smaller species (Gayral & Cosson
A very obvious change that has been noted in kelp forests throughout the world is that
either at a certain depth (Kain 1971a) or in an area of kelp at a certain time, the kelp
plants are lost and the bedrock becomes covered with encrusting coralline algae. The
populations of the local species of sea urchin were found to increase at the same time.
The resulting kelp-free area within or adjacent to kelp forests are frequently referred to
as "urchin barrens" and may remain kelp free for years. Large-scale overgrazing
of Laminaria hyperborea beds by the green sea urchin Strongylocentrotus
droebachiensis has recently occurred off the coast of northern Norway (Hagen 1987).
The resulting overgrazed Isoyake bottoms dominated by crustose coralline algae
and sea urchins persisted for more than five years in the Vestfjord area.
Kelp beds are dynamic ecosystems where competition for light, space and food result in
the species rich but patchy distribution patterns of flora and fauna on the infralittoral
reefs. Kelp plants themselves support a diverse epiflora and epifauna with their holdfasts
forming a sheltered habitat for a diverse assemblage of animals.
Kelp biotopes are important nursery areas for a diverse range of species. It is likely
that juvenile forms of all the animals that are present as adults in the kelp bed make use
of the habitat as a nursery area. Other species may only make use of the kelp beds during
only parts of their lifecycles.
Kelp plants are the major primary producers in the marine coastal habitat. Within the
euphotic zone (from high water to the depth of light penetration) kelps produce nearly 75%
of the net carbon fixed.
Keystone (structuring) species
Laminaria hyperborea, Laminaria digitata, Echinus esculentus, Paracentrotus lividus
and Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis
Importance of habitat for other species
Although kelp species often dominate their environment, they also supply extra
substrate available for other organisms. Holdfasts also provide refuge to a wide variety
of animals. Jones (1971) listed upto 53 macrofaunal invertebrate species obtained from an
individual holdfast. A few meiofaunal species may actively burrow into kelp. Benwell
(1981) has shown how the nematode Monhystera disjuncta may help weaken the distal
areas of the kelp where it feeds on decomposition-associated microbiota.
Urchin predators such a lobsters Homarus gammarus and wolffish Anarhichas
lupus may also be found amongst kelp forests.
Long-term fluctuations or permanent shifts in the biodiversity of kelp beds may occur
in the UK; however long term monitoring has not been undertaken. Long term studies on kelp
beds on the Atlantic coast of Canada have continued since the original study in the late
1960s (Mann 1972). Temporal changes within kelp beds seem to be on a decadal scale,
making monitoring projects of very long term a necessity.
Time for community to reach maturity
Leinaas & Christie (1996) examined re-colonisation of a barren kelp forest after
severe reductions in urchin numbers. The succession of algal growth followed a predictable
pattern. The substratum was colonised initially by filamentous algae, then Laminaria
saccharina. Only after 3-4 years after the removal experiment did the slower growing,
long-lived kelp Laminaria hyperborea become dominant.
The age of individual plants has been determined by Kain (1963b) by counting the number
of growth rings or lines in the stipe. Laminaria digitata was reported as having no
more than three growth lines (Kain 1979). Laminaria hyperborea is the longest
living species with plants as old as 15 years being recorded off the Outer Hebrides (Kain
1977). A plant with 18 rings was found in Norway by Grenager (1956). Many populations are
limited by conditions to a life span of less than half of these extremes (Kain 1971a).