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Photo provided by Jacqueline Sones showing a Janolus Nudibranch in Bodega Harbor, Calif.

Scientific report: Species moved north during marine heatwaves

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 21:00 (GMT + 9)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Dozens of species of sea slugs, jellyfish and other marine life from southern waters migrated into the Northern California region over an unusually long two-year period of severe heatwaves, says a new scientific report.

By: JANIE HAR, Associated Press

The 67 species identified in the report include a carnivorous sea slug that preys on other sea slugs and a sea snail "butterfly" usually spotted hundreds of miles away off the coast of Mexico. The study by the University of California Davis is to be published Tuesday in Scientific Reports.

Not all the species stuck around, but the abundance of migration provides a glimpse of what the Northern California coast might look like in the future, said Eric Sanford, lead author and UC Davis professor.

"I've been working here for 14 years and before our very eyes we are seeing a shift in the local marine communities," he said.

The purple-striped jellyfish was one of the first warm-water species researchers at UC Davis' Bodega Marine Laboratory were surprised to see during the 2014-16 marine heatwave. Its new northern range limit expanded from Bodega Bay to Arcadia Beach, Oregon.

The 2014-2016 period studied by researchers began in the Gulf of Alaska as a persistently warm patch in 2013 known as the "warm-water Blob" that spread south. Later, an El Niño event along the equator moved north, and the two factors led to unusually warm waters.

Temperatures in Northern California waters, which normally range from 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 13 Celsius), increased 3.5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Larry Crowder, a professor at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, who is not affiliated with the study, said the report is impressive in documenting how species respond to change differently and, in some cases, dramatically.

He said the report could help studies in fisheries management.  

Dijo que el informe podría ayudar a los estudios en la gestión de la pesca.

"No estamos seguros de lo que significa en términos de consecuencias positivas o negativas", dijo Crowder, pero dice que "el sistema está cambiando bajo nuestros pies".

"We're not sure what it means in terms of positive or negative consequences," Crowder said, but he says "the system is changing under our feet."

Of the 67 species, researchers documented 37 had set new records in travelling north.

Sanford said the first species they noticed was a purple striped jellyfish that washed up by their research laboratory in Bodega Bay, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of San Francisco. That was in July 2014.

"That was the first indication that we were starting to see unusual things," he said.

By: JANIE HAR, Associated Press

From there, researchers catalogued chocolate porcelain crabs, a species that has been in Northern California for about a decade but which boomed in population in warmer temperatures. They found violet sea snails, only the fourth known record of the species north of Santa Barbara County, and a type of sea slug called the Janolus Nudibranch, usually found south of Monterey County.

Sanford doesn't necessarily view the changes as negative, but migration will affect the ecosystem. Researchers, for example, discovered that a species of sea slug that eats other sea slugs has moved north —and appears to be sticking around.

"There's potential for that species to change the community by eating other species," he said.

Author: Janie Har, Associated Press

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