Researchers from the NUI Galway and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, using samples collected by citizen science recorders from a Seasearch Ireland and Porcupine survey trip, have confirmed the presence of the golden kelp (Laminaria ochroleuca ) in Ireland for the first time.
During a field survey of Belmullet, a small population of L. ochroleuca was discovered in a sheltered cove called Scots Port on the northwest facing coastline of Belmullet, September 10, 2018.
The species was originally recognized by Dr. Kathryn Schoenrock of NUI Galway with help from the Porcupine group and samples were subsequently collected for genetic analysis at the University of Alabama at Birmingham by Dr. Stacy A. Krueger-Hadfield.
The dominant kelp species found in Irish waters is Cuvie (Laminaria hyperborea ) and is found on all Irish coasts, while golden kelp is typically found in the southern EU waters and its northern range is restricted to the south coast of England, France and Spain. Golden kelp has been found to harbour less biodiversity than Cuvie and the migration of this species to Ireland has the potential to impact marine inshore biodiversity.
Because Scots Port is located 1040 km away from the nearest population of L. ochroleuca in the United Kingdom and 1630 km away from the nearest population in France the exact pathway for the expansion of this species range is unknown. However, genetic analyses would suggest that this population is more diverse than UK populations, resembling the richness described for populations in the Iberian Peninsula.
Dr Kathryn Schoenrock of NUI Galway explains: "The present range expansion of Laminaria ochroleuca highlights a critical need to continue monitoring Irish kelp forests. The knowledge of Irish kelp forest ecosystem is limited, including the most basic information, such as population distributions.
"The presence of L. ochroleuca, which is known to harbour much less biodiversity than its congeneric and current dominant species in Boreal kelp forests, necessitates further studies beginning with obtaining distribution records.
"Citizen science like Seasearch Ireland and Coastwatch are an excellent way to involve local communities that have a vested interest in the health of these ecosystems. In conjunction with existing research bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency, National Parks and Wildlife Services, and the Marine Institute, we need more programs that can sustain long term ecological research (LTERs ) of shallow marine systems over many years. We hope that this new species record in Ireland is a push to better understand the natural history of marine ecosystems in Ireland via continued funding for this fundamental line of research.”
Tony O’Callaghan, National Coordinator of Seasearch Ireland: "Citizen science projects can play an important role in monitoring marine ecosystems and recreational divers are uniquely placed to be the eyes and ears for marine waters as they are regularly immersed in them.
"While scientific research, and particularly LTERs, are important tools in monitoring the marine environment, citizen science is an under used and undervalued resource in Ireland and particularly in the marine.
"Seasearch recorders have collected over 50,000 records of over a thousand species and this data set is the best continuous record collected since the last major state funded study of Ireland’s inshore marine environment, the Biomar survey, which was in the 90s." This research is accepted for publication in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records.