Climate change might be destroying corals with ocean acidification and forcing dolphins to change their range, but some species are actually benefiting from it. Warming ocean temperatures off the coast of northern California, for example, have triggered a population explosion of bright pink, inch-long sea slugs in tide pools along California's central and northern coastline.
Researchers from the California Academy of Sciences, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and Bodega Marine Laboratory report that the the Hopkins Rose nudibranch (Okenia rosacea), which in the past was mostly found in waters off southern California coast, is now showing up in densities in the dozens per square meter in tide pools from San Luis Obispo to Humboldt counties in the north.
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Interestingly, the boom in pink sea slugs actually was predicted by the researchers back in 2011, in an article in the scientific journal Limnology and Oceanography. a range-shift in sea slug populations when warm temperatures, northward ocean currents and weak upwelling - in which cold, nutrient-rich water is pushed to the ocean's surface - overlap. The Hopkins Rose nudibranch turns out to be a sort of canary in the coal mine for ocean temperature, because it grows quickly and has a lifespan of just a year, most of which is spent on small swath of the ocean floor.
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While the spread of the Hopkins Rose nudibranch is adding some exotic color to northern waters, it's also an ominous sign. Terry Gosliner, the academy's curator of invertebrate zoology and geology, explained on the academy website: "Our current climate conditions are great for some of my favorite slugs, but we can't ignore that warming seas mean less food for sea birds, and adverse impacts for all marine ecosystems. California's unique marine life can't always adapt to so much instability."
Gosliner warned that increasingly frequent habitat disruptions could point to mass extinctions in the foreseeable future.