University of Tasmania

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Testing the efficacy of sea urchin exclusion methods for restoring kelp

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 01:13 authored by Sharma, R, Swearer, SE, Morris, RL, Elisabeth StrainElisabeth Strain
Kelps are ecosystem engineers, which collectively form forests that provide a variety of important ecosystem services for humans and other organisms. Kelp forests are threatened by multiple local and global stressors, one of the most notable is herbivory. Overabundant sea; urchins can consume kelp, leading to a phase shift from productive forests to unproductive; rocky barrens. Reducing sea urchin densities by directly removing them can reverse this; phase shift. However, maintaining low densities of sea urchins, is logistically and financially; challenging. Following a review of herbivore exclusion methods to date, we tested the efficacy of three different methods for excluding sea urchins from kelp in the laboratory: flexible fences; electricity; and copper anti-fouling paint. The results from the laboratory; experiment showed that flexible fencing was the most successful method for excluding sea urchins. To test the efficacy of this method in the field, sea urchins were removed from 1m2 patches in barrens and intact kelp beds, and the effectiveness of flexible fences of two different heights (30 cm and 60 cm) at excluding sea urchins were tested. The results from the field study demonstrated that flexible fences of both heights were effective at maintaining low sea urchin densities in barrens but not in intact kelp beds, relative to unmanipulated; rocky barrens. These findings suggest that flexible fencing could be an important tool in restoring kelp in barrens, however the costs of fencing are likely to place limits on the scale at which this management strategy can be implemented.


Publication title

Marine Environmental Research



Article number









Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Elsevier Sci Ltd

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The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox5 1Gb

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Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of coastal and estuarine ecosystems