Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Jarrett E.K. Byrnes

Second Advisor

Crystal Schaaf

Third Advisor

Robert Stevenson, Molly N. Simon


Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests are icons of marine beauty, acting as critical marine ecosystems with great ecological and economic value. Kelp forests are hot spots for biodiversity and provide myriad ecosystem services such as nursery habitat for commercial fisheries, nutrient cycling, wave attenuation, as well as supporting several industries surrounding the direct harvest of Macrocystis. In addition to their value as natural resources, kelp forests have high cultural value in many regions, both historical and contemporary. Despite their importance and value, these key natural resources are threatened by a host of drivers, and as a result, kelp forests are disappearing worldwide. These drivers interact across multiple scales, forming a complex system where cause and effect manifest in a series of direct and indirect effects. Kelp is most strongly affected by drivers that degrade water quality, such coastal urbanization on a local-to-regional scale, and climate change on a regional-to-global scale. However, given the high natural variability of kelp forests, these changes can be difficult to interpret at large scales. In addition, much of the public is unaware of the importance of this issue, or worse, has dangerous misunderstandings about the drivers and impacts acting on these floating forests. Many do not consider the strength of the connections between land and sea. In addition to these possible knowledge deficits, Climate change is an extremely polarizing topic which is often misrepresented, both intentionally and due to genuine misunderstandings. The research presented in this dissertation is the result of an effort to study the impacts of human activities (specifically urbanization and climate change) while simultaneously leveraging citizen science to allow the general public to contribute to our project. This relationship has proved to be mutually beneficial; volunteers have a chance to see how authentic research is carried out while providing useful data to the science team. Specifically, I take a variety of approaches to 1) Validate our citizen science approach for scaling up kelp mapping efforts, 2) Test a causal model of how urbanization and climate change interact to drive kelp biomass in California, and 3) Develop and evaluate an undergraduate-level activity that uses our citizen science project as a focal point for increasing awareness of climate change impacts, as well as improving students’ general scientific literacy.


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