Date of Award

August 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Filipe Alberto

Committee Members

Jeff Karron, Erica Young, John Berges, Emily Latch


El Nino, Genetic Monitoring, Kelp, Phycology, Population Genetics, Temporal


Given the impacts of climate change and other anthropogenic stressors on marine systems, there is a need to accurately predict how species respond to changing environments and disturbance regimes. The use of genetic tools to monitor temporal trends in populations gives ecologists the ability to estimate changes in genetic diversity and effective population size that may be undetectable by traditional census methods. Although multiple studies have used temporal genetic analysis, they usually involve commercially important species, and rarely sample before and after disturbance. In this study, we use newly collected samples, coupled with previously characterized microsatellite data to assess the genetic consequences of disturbance in several populations of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) in the Southern California Bight. We performed a pre- and post-disturbance microsatellite analysis to look at changes over a 10-year period, which included the 2015/16 El Nino Southern Oscillation event. We used canopy biomass estimated by remote sensing (Landsat) to quantify the extent of disturbance to kelp beds, and sea surface temperature data to understand how kelp was pushed towards its temperature limits during this period. Despite prolonged periods with decreased canopy at several sites, no changes in genetic structure and allelic richness was observed. We discuss how deep refugia of subsurface sporophytes and cryptic microscopic life stages could have kept genetic diversity through disturbance, with the latter being the only possible mechanism in one shallow continental site. Given the increasing effects of climate change and uncertainty in modeling impacts of species with cryptic life history stages, we suggest further investigation to reveal the role such stages play in species resilience.