Sustaining marine forests: A genomics and experimental approach to inform bull kelp restoration, aquaculture and conservation


PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Jodie Toft (Puget Sound Restoration Fund)

CO-INVESTIGATORS: Filipe Alberto (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Hilary Hayford (Puget Sound Restoration Fund)


Canopy kelp spans the water column, creating forests that stretch from the seafloor to the surface. These forests engineer their environment, create forage and refuge habitat for marine life, and contribute to productivity and biodiversity. However, in parts of the Salish Sea, the canopy-forming kelp — bull kelp — has declined dramatically. At the same time, interest in seaweed aquaculture is on the rise. To support both kelp restoration and farming, we must understand how to preserve the genetic integrity of wild bull kelp.

With funding from Washington Sea Grant, researchers are investigating the baseline genetic population structure of Salish Sea bull kelp forests. They are doing this through reciprocal transplant experiments to assess the degree of local adaptation in bull kelp and through genomic analysis to infer population dynamics. To preserve the genetic diversity of wild bull kelp, the team is building a seed bank. In addition, they are working with tribal partners to advance kelp forest restoration and farming practices.