For almost 20 years, researchers at the Santa Barbara Coastal Long-Term Ecological Research (SBC LTER) site have conducted detailed censuses of the majestic kelp forests off Santa Barbara. By counting fish species and placing them in the context of their environmental conditions, UCSB coastal marine ecologist Robert Miller and his colleagues can look at the effects of human activity and natural drivers on kelp and its ability to maintain the kelp forest communities.
Miller heads the research at this National Science Foundation-supported site. For him and his collaborators—including UCSB marine ecologist Thomas Lamy (now at University of Montpelier), postdoctoral researcher Christie Yorke and colleagues Francisco Chavez and Kathleen Pitz from MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute)—taking a census is more than just a matter of deploying divers to take a headcount; the researchers are also interested in beta diversity, which can be a somewhat convoluted concept for even seasoned ecologists.
“There are a lot of different ways to measure it, but the way I think of it is that it’s the turnover of species as you go from one place to another,” said Miller. “How many new species are in a place compared to the last place you went to? And so that obviously increases the farther you go.”