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Shifts in the Distribution and Abundance of Coastal Marine Species Along the Eastern Pacific Ocean During Marine Heatwaves from 2013 to 2018

Lonhart, S.I., R. Jeppesen, R. Beas-Luna, J.A. Crooks, and J. Lorda (July 2019)

Marine Biodiversity Records 12:13

DOI: 10.1186/s41200-019-0171-8


Background: Ongoing global ocean warming and a recent increase in the frequency and duration of marine heatwaves have demonstrably impacted marine ecosystems. Growing evidence points to both short- and long-term biological changes, across several levels of organization. While range shifts are among the predicted responses, few studies are focused solely on documenting such changes. Here we report ecological changes in response to marine heatwaves across multiple taxa in the eastern Pacific from central California to Baja California.

Methods: Sea surface temperature data from two estuaries and one coastal site were analyzed to define the number, duration, and intensity of marine heatwaves occurring in central and southern California from 2013 to 2018. Long-term monitoring programs and short-term research projects in coastal and estuarine ecosystems serendipitously collected specimens or photographs of extralimital species from central California to the Baja California Peninsula. Spatial and temporal sampling protocols and the targeted species for six unrelated programs varied greatly, from annual to monthly at both fixed and variable locations. In addition, anomalous occurrences were reported to staff at local and regional marine and estuarine protected areas and noted in local news and social media outlets. Anomalous range detections were categorized as range expansions and extensions, reappearances, abundance increases, shifts into new habitats, and range contractions.

Results: Multiple marine heatwaves occurred from 2014 to 2018, peaking in 2015. Marine heatwaves were more intense and longer in the estuaries, with a maximum duration of 109 days in 2015. We observed 29 species that had responded to the warm water anomalies of 2014–2018 along the eastern Pacific Ocean between central California and the Baja California Peninsula: 7 expansions, 2 extensions, 10 reappearances, 7 increases, 2 shifts into new habitats, and 1 apparent contraction. These shifts included algae, invertebrates and fishes. Twenty species were observed by professional biologists involved both in long-term monitoring programs and short-term studies, 6 by amateur naturalists as part of community-based science programs in the field, and 3 through a combination of all three.

Conclusions: Increased warm waters, sustained for an unprecedented 4 of 5 years, facilitated the northward redistribution of multiple species from several taxonomic groups. Species shifting northward were from warm-temperate and subtropical ecosystems to the south. In the absence of programs designed to detect range shifts, we must rely on the serendipitous observations of biologists conducting both long-term monitoring and short-term research, and the growing wealth of information from community-based science programs made available via online databases.


Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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