Sea otters are a “keystone species” within the kelp forest community, as they control the red sea urchin population, effectively keeping the entire ecosystem in balance.
In kelp forests, the most commonly found invertebrates are bristle worms, scud, prawn, snails, and brittle stars. These animals feed on the holdfasts that keep kelp anchored to the bottom of the ocean and algae that are abundant in kelp forests. Sea urchins will often completely remove kelp plants by eating through their holdfasts. Other invertebrates found in kelp forests are sea stars, anemones, crabs, and jellyfish.
A wide range of fish can be found in kelp forests, many of which are important to commercial fishermen. For example, many types of rockfish such as black rockfish, blue rockfish, olive rockfish, and kelp rockfish are found in kelp forests and are important to fishermen.
A wide range of marine mammals inhabit kelp forests for protection and food. Sea lions and seals feed on the fish that live in kelp forests. Grey whales have also been observed in kelp forests, most likely using the forest as a safe haven from the predatory killer whale. The grey whale will eat the abundant invertebrates and crustaceans in kelp forests. One of the most important mammals in a kelp forest is the sea otter, who takes refuge from sharks and storms in these forests. The sea otter eats the red sea urchin that can destroy a kelp forest if left to multiply freely.
Kelp forests are a natural buffet for birds such as crows, warblers, starlings, and black phoebes which feed on flies, maggots, and small crustaceans that are abundant in kelp forests. Gulls, terns, egrets, great blue herons, and cormorants dine on the many fish and invertebrates living in the kelp. Kelp forests also provide birds with a refuge from storms.
For more information:
Ecosystems: Kelp Forests, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Invertebrate and Vertebrate Assemblages Associated with Kelp Forests, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Kelp Forest, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary