Kelp export: fuel for adjacent communities in changing arctic ecosystems? (KelpEx)

KelpEx will, for the first time, quantify the production and export of kelp (Laminaria hyperborea) detritus and its role in fuelling diverse ecosystems, shaping their structure and function in the Arctic region of Norway.


Photo: Stein Fredriksen, UiO

About the project

Kelp forests are emblematic ecosystems along the Norwegian coast and are among the most productive systems on the planet. Up to 90% of this primary production is exported from the system to adjacent habitats. Over the past decades, dramatic regime shifts from kelp forests to barren areas have occurred, with major implications for the production and export of kelp detritus. Thus, changing kelp coverage caused by natural and/or anthropogenic stressors may have substantial implications in the structure and function of adjacent ecosystems.

KelpEx is a multidisciplinary project integrating research in kelp forest, biodiversity, coastal and deep-sea ecology and modelling, to determine the role played by kelp export in shaping the structure (abundance, biodiversity) and function (trophic webs) of adjacent ecosystems. KelpEx will quantify experimentally kelp production and export (WP1) and the effect of kelp export will be assessed in shallow-water (WP2) and deep-sea (WP3) communities. We will integrate all results from the field and lab experiments into newly developed ecological models (WP4). KelpEx will take a bulk step forward to determine the role played by kelp export in fuelling adjacent habitats, including effects on benthic ecosystem services (e.g. sustaining commercially exploited species) and will develop a predictive tool from which to assess ecosystem change associated with kelp regime shifts. KelpEx results will thus provide robust scientific knowledge to support decision making and management of Arctic ecosystems under different natural and climatic stressors, addressing Norway´s strategic priorities for the Arctic. 

Photo: Stein Fredriksen, UiO


KelpEx will answer 3 main questions:

  • Does the quantity and quality of kelp detritus vary with environmental factors?
  • Does kelp detritus input to the seafloor affect biodiversity and function of shallow- and deep-water benthic communities? 
  • What are the expected benthic ecological changes triggered by kelp regime shifts?


The overall goal of KelpEx is:

  • to quantify kelp production and export
  • assess the role played by this export in shaping the structure and functioning of communities adjacent to kelp forests, both shallow and deep, in Arctic Norway.
  • address the current challenge of understanding complex ecological dynamics in changing marine systems, providing empirical robust data to predict the response of ecosystems subjected to natural and anthropogenic stressors.


Kelp forests are important ecosystems in temperate and polar areas all over the world, forming complex systems that provide a major source of primary production and support rich and diverse communities. However, dramatic changes have occurred in Norwegian kelp forests in the last 4 decades, about 2000 km2 became barren due to overgrazing by sea urchins. In the late 1980s, a recovery of barren grounds started in mid-Norway and is moving northwards, driven by a decrease in grazing sea urchins.

Up to 90% of the kelp production is exported to adjacent ecosystems, but the role played by kelp detritus in fuelling adjacent benthic communities is poorly understood. Quantifying this trophic relationship between kelp forests and benthic ecosystems is timely in northern Norway, where kelp forests both play a major ecological role and are experiencing major regime shifts.





Roskilde University

The University of Western Australia


Universiteit Gent

University of Kaiserslautern

Universitetet i Tromsø



Published Feb. 9, 2017 3:59 PM - Last modified July 31, 2019 5:59 PM


Led by NIVA, UiO is partner.