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Scientists to restore rocky intertidal seaweed to boost coastal biodiversity in California by Sonia Fernandez August 05,2019   |  Source: University of California - Santa Barbara

Somewhat drab and unassuming, the humble rockweed's olive-green or yellowish-brown appearance belies its importance in the rocky intertidal zone.

"It's considered a foundation species," UC Santa Barbara marine scientist Robert Miller said of the seaweed, which anchors to rocks in the zone between high and low tide. The inhabitants of that area must withstand pounding surf, blazing sun, variations in temperatures and tides and drying winds. "Rockweed provides a nice damp habitat that enables other species to survive where they otherwise would get dried out and exposed to the sun and die," Miller explained.

However, the alga has declined dramatically along the California coast, a phenomenon that has been documented for the last 50 years.

"That decline seems to be due to various factors, including drying out from the Santa Ana winds, trampling by humans during low tides and, potentially, pollution," Miller said. As a result, the animals that live in and around the alga—from limpets and crabs to barnacles and snails—and the fish that feed in it during high tides lose habitat, which diminishes coastal biodiversity.

Miller and his collaborators are hoping to slow or even reverse that trend with a restoration project that involves transplanting rockweed from places

 

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