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Patterns of Mass Mortality among Rocky Shore Invertebrates across 100 km of Northeastern Pacific Coastline.

  • Author(s): Jurgens, Laura J
  • Rogers-Bennett, Laura
  • Raimondi, Peter T
  • Schiebelhut, Lauren M
  • Dawson, Michael N
  • Grosberg, Richard K
  • Gaylord, Brian
  • et al.
Abstract

Mass mortalities in natural populations, particularly those that leave few survivors over large spatial areas, may cause long-term ecological perturbations. Yet mass mortalities may remain undocumented or poorly described due to challenges in responding rapidly to unforeseen events, scarcity of baseline data, and difficulties in quantifying rare or patchily distributed species, especially in remote or marine systems. Better chronicling the geographic pattern and intensity of mass mortalities is especially critical in the face of global changes predicted to alter regional disturbance regimes. Here, we couple replicated post-mortality surveys with preceding long-term surveys and historical data to describe a rapid and severe mass mortality of rocky shore invertebrates along the north-central California coast of the northeastern Pacific Ocean. In late August 2011, formerly abundant intertidal populations of the purple sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, a well-known ecosystem engineer), and the predatory six-armed sea star (Leptasterias sp.) were functionally extirpated from ~100 km of coastline. Other invertebrates, including the gumboot chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri) the ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus), and subtidal populations of purple sea urchins also exhibited elevated mortality. The pattern and extent of mortality suggest the potential for long-term population, community, and ecosystem consequences, recovery from which may depend on the different dispersal abilities of the affected species.

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