Marking a first for research in an oceanic system, the William S. Cooper Award has been given to Paul K. Dayton, Mia J. Tegner, Peter B. Edwards, and Kristin L. Riser of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, for their investigation of one of Earth's largest underwater kelp forests.
The Cooper Award is awarded to outstanding contributors to the fields of geobotany and/or physiographic ecology. The Scripps co-authors were honored for their paper, "Temporal and spatial scales of kelp demography: the role of oceanic climate," which was published in the May 1999 issue of Ecological Monographs. They will be honored Aug. 9 at a ceremony in Snowbird, Utah.
"These four researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography were able to address fundamental questions about sustainability of communities in the face of disturbance along environmental gradients," the Ecological Society of America noted in announcing the 2000 award.
The Cooper Award Subcommittee members were impressed with the extent to which the researchers were able to extend analyses commonly used in terrestrial systems to the kelp forest community off Point Loma, San Diego, Calif. The committee noted that the Scripps paper is in keeping with the tradition of recent award winners in that it has large quantities of data from a system where data is difficult to obtain, synthesizes experimental and descriptive studies, and addresses fundamental questions.
Their research evaluated the roles of large-scale, low frequency oceanographic processes on the demography patterns of kelp. The processes ranged from seasonal climate variability to nutrient-poor El Niño events and nutrient-rich La Niñas.
"Standard experiments of the type that ecologists often do at small scales give different results under different oceanographic conditions," said Dayton. "As expected, we found considerable differences in the habitat adaptations of the specific kelps over large temporal and spatial scales. By doing small-scale experiments over large scales, researchers can gain a much more realistic understanding of oceanic ecosystems."
One noted finding from the paper is that the diversity of the system is maintained by continuous fluctuation in the oceanographic climate.
Dayton is a professor of oceanography; Tegner is a research biologist; and Riser is a staff research associate. All are in Scripps's Marine Life Research Group. Edwards, who is retired, was a staff research associate who spent nearly 10 years on this project.
The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the City of San Diego, the California Sea Grant College Program, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Marine Life Research Group at Scripps.