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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Longterm patterns of mass stranding of the colonial cnidarian Velella velella: influence of environmental forcing

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

*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 south 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 modelled as a function of indices representing sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTa), easterly (onshore) wind speed, and regional upwelling. Using AICc, best models indicate that SSTa averaged over the preceding winter (Dec–Feb) 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.