ViralICE: Viral diversity and Interactions in a Changing Environment on Kelp.

Kelps are brown algae from the order Laminariales that predominate along rocky coastal areas with cold and relatively shallow waters around the world. Like other marine photosynthetic organisms, kelps fuel secondary production via macroalgal detritus; thereby supporting complex food webs in coastal zones. Since they grow in dense groupings, like underwater forests, they also provide physical habitat, nursery ground and food for organisms, such as marine mammals, fishes, crabs, sea urchins, molluscs, other algae and epibiota. Kelp forest is capable of altering local oceanography and ecology by dampening wave surge, which influence water flow, coastal erosion, sedimentation, benthic productivity (primary and secondary) and recruitment. It can also influence interspecific competition among algae, since their canopy shades the seafloor, allowing low-light intensity species to grow. Kelp is not just a key species for the marine environment, but also for us. Their multiple industrial applications have led to an increase in the economic importance of seaweed aquaculture.

However, 38% of the world’s kelp forests have been in decline over the past five decades possibly due to coastal eutrophication and rising sea temperatures, among others. Norwegian Kelp populations have been fluctuating without an obvious reason and, the recent discovery of Phaeoviruses infecting Kelp species opens a new door for studying viral infection as a possible vector for this regime shift. Domesticated seaweed are more susceptible to abiotic stressors, disease and parasites. If they are a reservoir for disease, besides the economic burden, they can impact natural populations. ViralICE project therefore aims to find out whether and how kelp viruses affect the natural kelp forest in Norway (structure and functioning) and kelp aquaculture (management of marine coastal resources) under the current climate change situation. And make it viral!