Coastal Biomes

Flow diagram
Sources of material inputs to kelp forests from watersheds and the coastal ocean and the export of materials from kelp forests to other coastal habitats.

Principal biomes and biotic communities of the SBC-LTER, listed in order from land to sea, include: coastal mountains, oak woodland, chaparral, riparian woodland, coastal sage scrub, salt marsh, estuary and lagoon, sandy beach, rocky shore and reef, giant kelp forest, and coastal ocean. Our research effort concentrates on four coastal ecosystems:

As in many temperate regions throughout the world, shallow rocky reefs in the Santa Barbara Channel are dominated by kelp forests. Because of their close proximity to shore, kelp forests are influenced by physical and biological processes occurring on land as well as in the open ocean. A large number of coastal watersheds varying in size and land use drain from the coastal mountains into the Santa Barbara Channel. Stream flow is generally episodic as is typical in most semi-arid regions of the world. As outlined in the figure to the right, streams and rivers transport nutrients, dissolved and particulate organic matter, sediments, and pollutants from coastal watersheds to kelp forests while ocean currents supply larvae, plankton, and dissolved nutrients from adjacent offshore waters. Kelp forests export large amounts of organic materials, in the form of dissolved and particulate kelp and understory macrophytes which are often dislodged by waves, to other coastal habitats, such as sandy beaches.

Short and long-term changes in climate that alter rainfall and ocean currents (e.g., ENSO events and global warming) may cause a change in the relative importance of land and ocean processes in supplying nutrients, sediments, and organic matter to kelp forest communities.

SBC LTER research focuses on measuring and modeling the patterns, transport, and processing of material constituents (e.g., nutrients, carbon, sediment, organisms, and pollutants) from terrestrial watersheds and the coastal ocean to shallow reefs where kelp forests occur. Specifically, we are examining the effects of these material inputs on the primary production of kelp, and the population dynamics, community structure, and trophic interactions of kelp forest ecosystems.