Rocky shores are an important testing ground and experimental 'laboratory' for ecologists worldwide. Thanks to their steep environmental gradient, their two-dimensional structure, and the rapid turnover of their abundant sessile or slow-moving organisms, wave swept rocky shores make it practical for ecologists to conduct experiments that would be difficult or impossible elsewhere. Much of what we know about the ecological importance of processes such as competition, recruitment, predation, and patch dynamics has been tested on rocky shores. Although rocky shores are a comparatively minor habitat on Earth in terms of area, they have played a disproportionately large role in our understanding of ecological systems. As we move into an era of accelerated global climate change and expanded human domination of ecosystems, the extensive past work in the intertidal zone may serve as a valuable baseline against which to measure the effects of environmental shifts.
PISCO’s research focus on rocky shore habitats reflects their ecological and scientific importance along the coastal region of the California current ecosystem. The ultimate aim of our programs is to determine change in coastal communities that are related to climate and other processes. Using insights obtained over 20+years, investigators are evaluating how intertidal rocky reef ecosystems respond to changing climate and other shorter-term events, such as oil spills, changes in management, erosional and depositional events, point and non-point discharges (just to name a few).
PISCO monitors biologically important variables such as invertebrate recruitment, community structure and biodiversity as well as physically relevant parameters such as organism body temperatures, submersion times and wave forces in an effort to characterize the importance of processes driving the structure and function of these ecosystems and how they may be affected by changing climate conditions. Additionally rocky shores are one of the key habitat types designated for protection within California’s newly evolving system of marine protected areas and in some Oregon marine reserves. PISCO’s work in these systems has been and will continue to be critical to understanding the importance of human impacts on these ecosystems.
We conduct two types of community survey programs. They use different methods but yield comparable data on abundances and diversity of intertidal rocky reef species. These two programs began in 1999 with the establishment of PISCO, but over the years have been adapted and refined to provide the most accurate and useful data for science and society.
1. Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program (1999-present; Baja California to Alaska); led by investigators at UCSC and UCSB.
2. Spatially Nested Biodiversity Surveys (1999-2005: San Diego CA [incl. Channel Islands] to Cape Flattery, Washington. 2009-present: Oregon and Northern California); led by investigators at OSU
Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring (program centralized at UCSC) : Because rocky intertidal communities are highly diverse and subject to constant change, monitoring of these areas must be done in a well-designed, systematic manner, over long periods of time. Our monitoring program began with the goal of developing an approach that would enable researchers to collect statistically sound data using methods that were simple enough to maintain over the long-term, using minimal resources, and has grown into a consortium of groups that now monitor sites along the entire Pacific Coast of North America, from Alaska to Mexico, and several East Coast sites in Maine and New Hampshire.
Methods of data collection include fixed plots that are sampled across the years. Sites are visited annually for abundance surveys of key species that are important ecosystem engineers and indicators (called "long-term surveys"). Once every 3-5 years, comprehensive biodiversity surveys are performed to document species richness and changes in the distribution of species within and among sites over time. For more information...
Spatially Nested Biodiversity Survey Program: Established in 1999, this program provides annual abundances of all invertebrate and algal species at sites, allowing annual estimates of biodiversity and species richness and insights into trends over time and in response to environmental changes. Methods of data collection include quadrat surveys that are randomly distributed at a site. Sites along the Oregon and California coasts were sampled annually through 2004. In 2006 and in response to changes in available funds, this program became focused on nearly a dozen sites along the Oregon and Northern California coastlines. With support from National Science Foundation's Long term Research in Environmental BIology program, this long-term study now focuses on ecosystem responses to climate change. For more information...