Ecology & Conservation of Kelp Forest Communities
This course explores forests of the giant kelp, Macrocystis. In many ways, these are the rain forests of temperate seas, supporting a high diversity of resident species held together by a complex web of interactions. Through daily scuba dives, lectures, labs, and group projects you get acquainted with many of the common invertebrates, fishes, and seaweeds that live here and how their interactions shape the community.
The course has three major components: natural history, ecology, and conservation. To understand & conserve these communities we have to understand first the species that live there. Population and community patterns arise as a consequence of individual organisms going about their daily lives, trying to find a place to live, food to eat, and eventually reproducing, all the while trying to avoid being eaten themselves or falling victim to some other calamity. Every species goes about doing this in a different way. So first we must learn the cast of characters who inhabit the kelp forest stage, who they are, where they live, how to recognize them underwater, and all the other important aspects of their day-to-day lives. Then we dissect the plot of this ecological play by examining how different species are affected by their myriad interactions with other species and the surrounding physical environment, and how these interactions produce the patterns of population dynamics and community structure we've observed. Finally we use what we've learned about natural history and ecology to address conservation issues. Kelp forests only grow in coastal areas, making them vulnerable to many human-induced stresses.
Along the way you also learn how to do science underwater. We discuss and use standard methods for conducting quantitative surveys of kelp abundance & population structure, diets of sea stars, and abundance of cryptic abalone. Many of the data we collect during the course contribute to on-going time series for the Hopkins Marine Life Observatory. In the lab you'll learn how to analyze these data using methods ranging from simple statistical tools to more sophisticated methods of population viability analysis. You also learn how to use underwater photography for documentation & data collection. It is recommended that students complete Stanford's Scientific Diver Training workshop, offered during spring break and the week before this course starts, although this is not a requirement.
The Monterey Peninsula is an ideal place to conduct a course such as this. Kelp forests here grow under a wide variety of conditions, allowing us to see first hand how factors such as wave exposure, depth, and substrate affect the structure of the community. Conditions can vary a great deal from day to day. Some dives turn out to be cold and dark and murky, but others can be so spectacular as to rival the best dives anywhere in the world. And an invariable constant is the eye-opening biology we see on every dive. So if you want to shake hands with a starfish the size of a man-hole cover, glide through a cathedral-like submarine forest dappled in sunlight, come nose-to-nose with a curious harbor seal, or gain the self confidence that comes from not only getting to know an alien & sometimes challenging new environment, but feeling at home working there, then come join us this summer in Monterey. You'll never enjoy working so hard or find it more rewarding.
Syllabus Seanet Watanabe