Foundation species

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Most of my research centers around habitat forming species in the marine environment, which ecologists like to refer to as foundation species. The goal of my research on these foundation species (seagrass, kelp, and marsh) has been to: 1) Determine the importance  of foundation species on community structure and biodiversity across latitudinal stress gradients, and 2) determine the key physical and biological processes that in turn affect the functioning and stability of foundation species.

Worldwide kelps are generally considered good for ecological communities as they are thought of providing structure, food, and habitat for many species that would not be able to persist without their presence. The prime example for this facilitation of species are giant kelp forests (Macrocystis pyrifera) along many of the world’s temperate coasts. However, what happens when you look at a similar kelp species but in a different environment? Do these positive species interactions remain? Egregia menziesii (commonly referred to as the feather boa kelp) forms conspicuous beds in the rocky intertidal zone along the northeast Pacific, and grows to be 10 m in length, which is quite impressive for an intertidal organism. Along wave swept shores Egregia uses its size and frond strength as a competitive advantage as it creates a whiplashing effect that removes competitors and herbivores creating space for itself, check out the video below to see Egregia in action:

Key Publication:
Hughes, B.B. 2010. Variable effects of a kelp foundation species on rocky intertidal diversity and species interactions in central California. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 393:90-99.