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Research Technical Report

Widespread Shifts in the Coastal Biota of Northern California During the 2014–2016 Marine Heatwaves

Sanford, E., J.L. Sones, M. Garcia-Reyes, J.H.R. Goddard, and J.L. Largier (March 2019)

Scientific Reports 9:4216; https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-40784-3

During 2014–2016, severe marine heatwaves in the northeast Pacific triggered well-documented disturbances including mass mortalities, harmful algal blooms, and declines in subtidal kelp beds. However, less attention has been directed towards understanding how changes in sea surface temperature (SST) and alongshore currents during this period influenced the geographic distribution of coastal taxa. Here, we examine these effects in northern California, USA, with a focus on the region between Point Reyes and Point Arena. This region represents an important biogeographic transition zone that lies <150 km north of Monterey Bay, California, where numerous southern species have historically reached their northern (poleward) range limits. We report substantial changes in geographic distributions and/or abundances across a diverse suite of 67 southern species, including an unprecedented number of poleward range extensions (37) and striking increases in the recruitment of owl limpets (Lottia gigantea) and volcano barnacles (Tetraclita rubescens). These ecological responses likely arose through the combined effects of extreme SST, periods of anomalous poleward flow, and the unusually long duration of heatwave events. Prolonged marine heatwaves and enhanced poleward dispersal may play an important role in longer-term shifts in the composition of coastal communities in northern California and other biogeographic transition zones.