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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 662:69-83 (2021)  -  DOI:

Long-term patterns of mass stranding of the colonial cnidarian Velella velella: influence of environmental forcing

Timothy Jones*, Julia K. Parrish, Hillary K. Burgess

School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Velella velella is a pleustonic cnidarian noted worldwide for mass stranding of the colonial phase. Utilizing a 20 yr dataset (2000-2019; 23265 surveys) collected by the COASST citizen science program, we examined the spatio-temporal occurrence of mass strandings of V. velella along the Pacific Northwest coast from Washington to northern California, USA. V. velella mass strandings were documented in 14 years, with expansive events in 2003-2006 and 2014-2019. Events predominantly occurred in spring and were synchronous (April) among years, concurrent with shifts to prevailing onshore winds. Autumn mass stranding events occurred infrequently, with no consistent phenology (2005: November; 2014: August). In stranding years, reports of V. velella were mostly synchronous throughout the surveyed area, and events consistently spanned >400 km of coastline, with highest reporting rates in the vicinity of the Columbia River plume, collectively suggesting extensive V. velella blooms throughout the northern California Current system in some years. Annual metrics of spring V. velella reporting rate (proportion of beaches; January-June) were modeled as a function of indices representing sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTa), easterly (onshore) wind speed, and regional upwelling. The best models (based on Akaike’s information criterion corrected for small sample size) indicated that SSTa averaged over the preceding winter (December-February) was positively correlated with spring reporting rate, suggesting that mass strandings of V. velella may be more prevalent in warmer years. As planetary warming continues, and V. velella strandings are easily recorded by citizen science programs globally, we suggest that stranding prevalence may be one relatively easy measure providing evidence for epipelagic ecosystem response.

KEY WORDS: Jellyfish · California Current · Climate change · Citizen science · Sea surface temperature

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Cite this article as: Jones T, Parrish JK, Burgess HK (2021) Long-term patterns of mass stranding of the colonial cnidarian Velella velella: influence of environmental forcing. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 662:69-83.

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