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Role of sea urchins on California kelp

The new research provides valuable information to understand and protect California's quintessential kelp forests.

California sheephead and spiny lobsters may be helping control sea urchin populations in Southern California kelp forests, where sea otters -- a top urchin predator -- have long been missing, according to a new study. The research provides new insight into the complex predator-prey relationships in kelp forests that can be seen in the absence of sea otters.

California sheephead and spiny lobsters may be helping control sea urchin populations in Southern California kelp forests, where sea otters -- a top urchin predator -- have long been missing, according to a new San Diego State University (SDSU) study published in the journal Ecology. The research provides new insight into the complex predator-prey relationships in kelp forests that can be seen in the absence of sea otters.

The study is also the first to experimentally test the relative impact, or rate of feeding, of the California sheephead and spiny lobsters in comparison to sea otters, whose historical range spanned from British Columbia, Canada to Baja California, Mexico.

"Healthy kelp forests are important both economically and ecologically along our coast. They act as nurseries and vital habitat for valuable fishery species, recreation sites for kayakers, free divers, and scuba divers, and serve as the base of rocky reef food webs," says Robert Dunn, who led the study as a Ph.D. candidate at SDSU and University of California, Davis, funded by a NMFS-California Sea Grant Fellowship.

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