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Rockweed recovery study by UMaine graduate student and professors challenged by other researchers

A study on rockweed recovery released last year by a UMaine graduate student and professors is being challenged by other marine researchers. The study found that rockweed biomass recovered from harvesting in just one year.

Dr. Robin Hadlock Seeley, a retired marine ecologist and co-founder of the Maine Rockweed Coalition, said her team found flaws in how the study was designed and how the data were analyzed.

"So they're saying recovery occurred in one year because we got the same amount of biomass one year after the harvest. What we're saying is you might have seen the same amount of biomass because you weren't collecting data from an area that was harvested, or because it wasn't verified that the harvest took place," Hadlock Seeley said.

Dr. Elliott Johnston, the UMaine study's author, said he believes the critics misunderstand the objective of his study, which was based on irregular, patchy cuts, and the outcomes of those varied harvests was the point of his research.

"That was one of the takeaways or intentions of our paper. It's in our title: Bed, Scale, Impact. We felt like there was a gap in rockweed harvest literature at which the scale of harvest is studied," Johnston said.

Hadlock Seeley said that most scientists have concluded that rockweed biomass takes two to three years to recover, and the height, three dimensional structure and canopy of the rockweed forest also matter. The overarching question, she said, is whether the way Maine's wild rockweed forests are cut is ecologically sustainable.

“It is especially important, during this time of heightened commercial pressure to remove wild rockweed, that marine resource managers, conservation agencies, landowners, and others have accurate information on which to base management decisions."

Johnston said he's crafting a response to the critique that will be published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

"Our response will be a clarification of what our study was trying to do and responding to their points, but we stand by the work we've done," Johnston said.

Read Johnston's abstract here.

Read the 2024 critique paper here.