Kelp forests are diverse coastal ecosystems that are home to many species of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals. Valuable BC fisheries including Pacific salmon and rockfish rely on kelp forests to provide habitat for growing fish. Additionally, rapidly growing kelp channels carbon into the ocean floor. Unfortunately, kelp forests are under threat by multiple stressors including climate change that has resulted in more than half of BC kelp forests lost in the last 8 years. Targeted habitat restoration can protect specific populations from some stressors, but the global effects of climate change mean that kelp will need to evolve to survive.
The KelpGen project will develop high-quality genomic resources for bull kelp and giant kelp, two keystone kelp forest species. By quantifying how kelp populations are related, the team will guide conservation efforts to protect genetic diversity and adaptive potential. This work will also identify the genes involved in adaptation to warmer water. This information will be used to model the genetic composition necessary to thrive in different temperatures. By comparing current genetic composition with the composition required under future climate change, populations that are expected to thrive or decline in the future will be highlighted. Moving some individuals from warm-adapted populations into these threatened populations could provide the optimal combination of genes to help threatened populations evolve and adapt to rapidly changing climates.
The foundational resources from this project will facilitate future studies on kelp and help protect this critical BC ecosystem and the fisheries it nurtures.