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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Ecology in Motion

Ecology in Motion

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, February 2, 2015/Categories: natural history, marine life, environment, climate change

Hopkin's Rose Nudibranch   (credit: UCSC Institute of Marine Sciences )

Ecosystems are always responding to their environments and can adapt as environmental factors change. It is all about the time involved. Environments stable over centuries maintain relatively static populations of plants and animals if not disturbed. Environments under stress can show abrupt population changes in species when some factor alters the situation within shorter time of a few decades or years. This can be especially noticeable at the boundaries between ecosystems such as along timberlines and coastal marine zones. A couple of species are showing moving in 'real time'.

In coastal bays along the central California coastline, a species of nudibranch (sea slug) is moving north as water temperatures rise rapidly in their normal southern ranges. Hopkin's Rose, bright pink sea slugs typically uncommon near the central California town of San Luis Obispo, have been seen by marine researchers at UC Santa Cruz and elsewhere having moved north of San Francisco and even up into Humboldt County in the far north of the state. The cause of their northward migration is directly related to the rising water temperatures.
Hopkin's Rose Nudibranch, Hopkinsia rosacaea   (credit: UCSC Institute's of Marine Sciences)

Ecological monitoring is required to correctly see long-term trends and the pink nudibranchs have offered an opportunity to gather important data on the changing coastal environment.

Other species are showing similar movements in response to rising temperatures. Coniferous trees in the sub-arctic are colonizing the normally tree-less tundra while pikas, the chirping rodents in western mountains, are running out of places to move being already at the top of their limited alpine habitats.

Publishing their finding in the  Journal of Biogeography  researchers at the University of Colorado report that:

"The American pika appears to have experienced climate-mediated upslope range contractions and may be subjected to above-average exposure to climate change because summer temperatures are projected to rise more than annual temperatures."

while the Annals of Botany has released a long report on the::Impacts of Climate Change on the Tree Line

  American Pika (credit: UC Boulder, Chris Ray)                 Migrating Arctic Timberline (Woods Hole Institute)

Pink sea-slugs (a marine mollusk), struggling pikas (an alpine mammal), and tough pines (coniferous trees) from ecosystems far apart are telling us something ecological. Each species is being affected by the same environment parameter, increasing temperatures. They are all moving on "fast forward" trying to adapt to changes in their environments..

It shouldn't be too difficult to connect some dots to understand the reason why.

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