An article about restoration ecology research, co-authored by SSU biology professor Dr. Brent Hughes, was the cover story in the November 3, 2023 issue of Science, a prestigious peer-reviewed science research journal published by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.
According to its website, Science reaches a worldwide audience of more than one million and publishes “those papers that are most influential in their fields or across fields and that will significantly advance scientific understanding.”
To understand why about 50 percent of vegetative ecosystem restoration efforts fail, Hughes said the authors collected worldwide research from 1,898 field experimental tests conducted in 64 countries and published in 451 articles, then created a single large data set to analyze. Their meta analysis found that, regardless of location or type (land or water), successful restoration must involve controlling plant-eating animals (herbivores).
“Without controlling those consumers, you are setting yourself up for failure,” Hughes said of their findings, adding that maintaining or re-introducing top predators are key to restoring vegetation and the ecosystem.
Hughes said the conclusion applies to restoration efforts in which he and his graduate and undergraduate students are leading with researchers at Sonoma State, UC Davis-Bodega Marine Laboratory, Moss Landing Marine Labs, The Nature Conservancy, and the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The project is addressing the Northern California collapse – a 95 percent loss – of kelp forests, largely attributed to overconsumption by sea urchins.
Summarized in the cover story of Bay Nature magazine (Fall 2023), they are lab-growing kelp from spores and planting it off the Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino county coasts. Keys to regrowing the kelp are placing it out of the reach of – and finding ways to reduce – the urchin population. Urchins along this coast have gone unchecked by natural predators due to the loss of sea otters in Northern California and a decline in sea stars.
SSU biology professors Sean Place and Mackenzie Zippay also are involved in kelp restoration through genetic research into whether certain types of kelp will adapt better to changing climate conditions, such as ocean warming.