Non-Charismatic Species Spotlight Projects

Northwest Academy Climate Change Biology Students (11-12th grade) Portland, Oregon Molly Sultany: [email protected]

Assignment prompt: "For this first assignment, you are a free-lance nature writer who has been hired to design social media content for a local non-profit organization: CoastWatch. The communications manager, Katie Russell, has asked for you to ‘spotlight’ one lesser-known Oregon Coast species. You should create an original work of art featuring this species. The art should be eye-catching, intriguing, and compelling. In addition, your art should be accompanied by a few sentences of text that explain how this organism is impacted by global climate change. Your writing should be accessible by the public, and may be humorous, serious, scientific, poetic, or creative."


The Kelp Conundrum 
By Devin Atalay 

Kelp by Devin Atalay
Ah, Kelp. A tasty snack in the best of times, a monster of thalassophobia in the worst. Sprawled across California beaches, swarming with flies as it rots slowly away, kelp is seen by many as unlikeable. Disgusting. Truly a biological enigma— not a plant, despite its leaves, chloroplasts, or even the fact that it uses photosynthesis to survive. Not an animal or fungus either, for obvious reasons. Instead, this aberration of nature belongs to the Protists family, a miscellaneous kingdom which also contains oddballs like slime molds, many types of plankton, and diatoms. Yet, despite its unflattering placement, kelp pulls its weight in gold, or in this case, oxygen. Through photosynthesis, vast forests of kelp, seagrass, and other algae convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, along with layers of plankton and phytoplankton at the subsurface, accounting for 70-80% of the Earth’s oxygen production. Kelp is truly an invaluable resource, providing homes for sea life, food for marine grazers, and most importantly, oxygen for a dying planet. 


Rough Keyhole Limpet: Diodora aspera
By Evan Gray-Williams

Rough keyhole limpet by Evan Gray-Williams
My species for the Coast Watch Oregon Shores project was the rough keyhole limpet, scientific name Diodora aspera. The rough keyhole limpet is found in the northern Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Mexico. The limpet lives from the lower part of the intertidal zone to the subtidal zone. Its habitat is the rocky areas all along the coast, and it dwells on and under large rocks and on large kelp stipes. The limpet’s strong muscular foot allows it to thrive in intertidal areas with turbulent waves. The rough keyhole limpet has not experienced much danger from climate change in terms of its survival, as limpets are tolerant of many environmental challenges of the intertidal zone. 


Japanese Wireweed and the Effects of Invasive Seaweed in the Face of Climate Change Along the Oregon Coast 
By Elsie Hopkins 

Japanese wireweed by Elsie Hopkins
Japanese wireweed (Sargassum muticum) is a species of seaweed native to the subtidal habitats of Japan, China, and Korea. It is invasive along the coast of the Pacific Northwest.  Along the Oregon Coast, Japanese Wireweed can grow more than 10 meters in length and be found in the lower intertidal and upper subtidal zones. It competitively excludes native seaweeds fighting for the same space, light and nutrients due to its long lifespan, high fecundity and tolerance for a wider variety of abiotic conditions than the native fauna. This has led to its rampant success along the coast of Oregon. It grows in the photic zone where it creates a floating canopy and shades other marine fauna including Holey Sponge Seaweed(S.spongiosus) and Red Hornweed (C.virgatum), causing a loss of biodiversity in the niche. The stress it causes to native seaweeds can lead to cascading effects on native marine flora and fauna. 


The Quiet Chameleon of the Pacific Ocean: The Red Irish Lord
By Lex Kornelis

The Red Irish Lord by Lex Kornelis
Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus, or the Red Irish Lord, has no ranked conservation status, as it is abundant across the pacific coast and has no threats to its species wide survival. Red Irish Lord fish live along the coast of California starting at Monterey Bay and go all the way up to the Bering Sea in Alaska (66°N). Their habitat is at the bottom of waters in rocky reefs. Climate change may force their habitat out of California and north as the oceans warm, which may be difficult as a non-migratory species. They may become more prevalent predators of crabs, fish, shrimp, mussels, barnacles, and other small fish as the shells of such creatures weaken due to ocean acidification. If not for the Red Irish Lord, these species may be much more prevalent along the north American pacific coast. While edible, the Red Irish Lord is not commonly sold in grocery stores, and while it has many remarkable qualities, there is nothing truly unique to it and only it to make it stand out to the general human population. 


Gumboot Chiton: Cryptochiton stelleri 
By Elly Neiberg 

Gumboot chiton by Elly Neilberg
The Gumboot Chiton is a species of tidepool-dwelling mollusk native to the Pacific Northwest. Rising ocean temperatures and erratic weather patterns may pose a significant risk to the survival of the gumboot chiton. Chitons overheat and become immobilized at water temperatures over 18 degrees Celsius. Although they can survive limited periods of heat stress, regularly warm temperatures can severely inhibit the overall fitness of the chiton. Additionally, the Gumboot Chiton has a weaker grip strength compared to other species of chiton and is more likely to be pulled off the rocks during a severe weather event like a storm surge, flood, or tsunami. As global climate change causes more erratic weather patterns, gumboot chitons may face a species-specific risk of detachment from rocks.  


Pacific Hairy Hermit Crab (Pagurus hirsutiusculus) 
by Zadie Niedergang

How many hermit crabs can you find in the watercolor below? 
A: One under the rock in the upper left, one between the anemones in the center

Pacific hairy hermit crab by Zadie Niedergang
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The Pacific Hairy Hermit crab is a marine crustacean found in tide pools, hidden in rocky crevices or under rocks. It is common enough not to be on conservation lists but not cute enough to fill the pages of National Geographic. Their geographic range extends from central Alaska to central California, and notably they are found in greater abundance in protected areas like marine reserves. Hermit crabs are attracted to a synthetic substance called ‘oleamide’. Oleamide is a plastic additive used industrially. Oleamide is the synthetic form of oleic acid, a chemical released by dead arthropods as they decompose. Hermit crabs, as scavengers, will travel towards the scent of oleic acid in search of food, and find nothing but plastic. Like most marine species, the Pacific Hairy Hermit Crab has been affected by climate change, particularly rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and warmer ocean water temperatures. Other mollusks are being affected by temperature and salinity at a rapid rate, and hermit crabs are lacking the shell selection they once had. Crabs are left with too-small shells exposing their soft abdomen to predators. 


Mysterious Marine Worms
 by Sam Noble-Kats

Polychaetes by Sam Noble-Kats
Polychaetes are an understudied species. Likely due to their creepy-crawly appearance and out-of-the-way location, few people are interested in studying them. Scientists have only identified about 15,000 out of the estimated 45,000 species of polychaetes. Some scientists worry that many species are going extinct before they are identified. And, with such little knowledge about the species, we have no way of knowing why they are dying.







Aggregating Anemone
 by Ava Schaefer

Aggregating anemones by Ava Schaefer
Because of Aggregating anemones’ plant-like appearance, they do not resemble most other animal species, nor are they a flagstone species. The Aggregating anemone’s green pigment comes from their symbiotic relationship with the zooxanthellae algae. Rising water temperatures expel the algae which results in the bleaching of the anemone, causing the main source of energy to become the anemone’s food: small crustaceans and fish that are then injected with immobilizing toxins using nematocysts on its tentacles. The lack of resources from the algae reduces reproduction rates and its ability to help protect and provide habitat for other species such as the clownfish. 





Dead Man's Fingers 
by Max Reiner

Photograph from Oregon Coast mile 327 by Molly Sultany

Dead man's fingers. /Photo by Molly Sultany
Dead man's fingers (Codium fragile) is an invasive, branching, green algae which originates in the Northwest Pacific. It has since spread throughout the Pacific Northwest as well as around the coasts of Europe and Asia. It lives in high density in intertidal zones and on beaches, as well as places like wharfs, jetties, bays, and other sheltered areas.  Because it reproduces sexually, parthenogenetically, and vegetatively as well as being resistant to temperature change and salinity, dead man’s fingers spread incredibly fast. Additionally, the plant is known to grow on mussels and shellfish, which often leads to the deaths of those animals either through suffocation,difficulties moving and feeding, or causing the animal to be swept away. While dead man's fingers are resistant to most temperatures, it is known to grow faster at higher temperatures signaling that climate change may aid its expansion towards the poles as well as increase density elsewhere. 


Dead Man’s Fingers Poem
grasp gripping sun strangling 
cloud over the sea
hard rock homed, shellfish slayer
mussel murderer
terror of shallow sea

far flung spreader
invader invaded, helped by the heat
temperature tirading
world overtaking
wonder of the shallow sea

weirding wildling
advancing algae attacking
Ecosystem expanding, with the heat
Ocean overlord
Aggressor of the shallow sea


The Worms of the Sea 
by Isaac Schultz

Sketch by Isaac Schultz from reference image by Donna Pomeroy, USA

10-scaled worm by Isaac Schultz
The 18-scaled worm, also known as Halosydna Brevisetosa, is a worm belonging to the family Polynoidae. It is a scale worm, as it is covered in segmented chitinous scales all along its body. It lives in clean waters along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean, ranging from Southern California to Alaska preferring temperatures of 42.8°F at the coldest, to 50°F at the warmest. It can be found burrowing under rocks, pilings, and amongst mussel beds. It is commensal with hermit crabs, moon snails, and other scale worms. It feeds on plankton, sea snails, small crustaceans, detritus, and other worms, even those of the same species.
    As the water warms due to climatic warming, the worms’ spatial refugia will expand farther north, resulting in the worms’ gradual migration to colder northern waters. 


The Whale Louse 
by Sadie Siegel-Wilson

Whale louse by Sadie Siegel-Wilson
Contrary to its name, the whale louse (Cyamidae) is not a louse or even an insect. In fact, it is more closely related to the skeleton shrimp. With its long, hooked legs, the whale louse latches on to its host (a whale) to feed. It remains on the whale for the entirety of its life and eats small amounts of tissue to survive. Although the whale louse depends on its host entirely, the whale is rarely affected by these small creatures. It is, however, greatly affected by climate change. With temperatures of the ocean rising, suitable whale habitats are diminishing and competition for dwindling prey is growing. Whales are unable to reproduce which, in turn, prevents whale lice from reproducing. The temperature change also forces whales to move to deeper waters, putting more pressure and stress on the lice. This movement also causes trophic uncoupling– an occurrence of predators unable to access their prey. 


Red-Trumpet Calcareous Tubeworm
By Cosmo Somerset

Red trumpet calcareous tubeworm by Cosmo Somerset
Serpula columbiana, commonly known as the red-trumpet calcareous tubeworm, plume worm, fan worm, limy tube worm, or red tube worm, is a species of marine tubeworm recognizable by its distinctive fringe of bright-colored cirri. It is a member of the genus serpula, the serpulidae family (which consists of sessile tube-building annelid worms), and class polychaeta, also known as the ‘bristleworms.’ This genus is known for its distinctive ‘crown’ feature, which is used for respiration and alimentation. Their bodies are only 2-3 inches long, but they build and reside inside a 4-inch calcium tube. When threatened, they will withdraw into their tubes and close the entranceway to protect themselves from predators. However, this process results in less time for feeding, so it is important they don’t retreat too often. Their small size and alien, inhuman features make them a non-charismatic species that rarely captures the attention of civilians. Serpula columbiana is distributed throughout the Northern Pacific, including Alaska, Canada, and the US. These immobile creatures attach directly to rocks, shells, floats, piers, stones, algae, or other surfaces. They live in tide pools and intertidal zones about 100 meters deep amongst other tidepool biota such as snails, chitons, and ochre sea stars, which are their primary predators. Other threats include predators such as wrasse, urchins, and the highly toxic Nereocystis leutkeana kelp, which contains carbon monoxide. Serpula columbiana actively steers clear of environments where this kelp resides. They are filter feeders that eat tiny microscopic organisms and detrital particles by straining suspended material and food particles from water. While younger tubeworms may enjoy warmer temperatures, as they age they will suffer from excessive temperature increases and shell corrosion as an effect of ocean acidification and climate change. Like many other marine species, serpula columbiana is threatened by warming oceans and increased carbonic acid in the water. Despite their small and inhuman appearance, tubeworms are important facilitators and ‘ecosystem engineers’ who reduce sulfide levels in the surrounding water and can alter sediment. Because of its biological importance, the loss of this seemingly inconsequential species would cause ripple effects throughout its entire ecosystem. 


Species Spotlight: Black Tegula 
By Quetzal Starzak Macmillan

Black tegula by Quetzal Starzak Macmillan
Tegula funebrails, known as the black tegula or black turban snail, belongs to the tegulidae family of sea snails. The black tegula plays an important ecological role as a food source for species such as sea stars, crabs, octopus, birds, or other snails, being one of the most abundant intertidal snails. Due to their algae-dominated diet, black tegulas also serve the role of biotic population control, preventing the overabundance of intertidal algae species, along with aiding in the removal of excessive intertidal plant detritus. Sea snails are a food source for a variety of countries and communities, along with being a part of the 140 billion dollars worldwide seafood industry meaning that population loss could have significant economic impacts.
The public is generally unaware of the ecological roles played by sea stars and many people may think that they only sit still or that they aren't even alive. In specific the black tegula is distinctly un-charismatic having no bright colors or striking characteristics (gray and black shell). It is unlikely that the black tegula is widely known or observed very often by the public. The flashy colors and unique markings of popular charismatic species, which receive many public donations, are not found on the black tegula, leading to a lack of recognition and funding. Black tegula's lack of charisma is even more reason to support them as they are impacted by human-driven climate change, just as we should any other species. 


Species Spotlight–The California Mussel 
by Paloma Thrailkill

California Mussel by Paloma Thrailkill
The California mussel (Mytilus californianus) is a bivalve mollusk, a soft bodied invertebrate enclosed in a hard two hinged shell in the family mytilidae. The California mussel is an endangered species that lives along the 4,000-mile-long coastline that stretches from the Alaskan islands down to northern Mexico. They are often found in large clusters, sometimes in groups of over 100,000. The California mussel plays a big role in the food chain, as a large variety of predators such as sea snails, crabs and shorebirds depend on the California mussel for food. Unfortunately, mussels are generally known as an unappealing, hardy species that more closely resemble a rock than an animal. This non-charismatic species is difficult for the public to relate to or care about. Most people are unaware of the importance of the California mussel on the environment and have never considered the detrimental effects its reduced range or even eventual extinction could bring upon our ecosystem. For this reason, little effort has been made to educate the public about the importance of the California mussel and encourage awareness of its valuable role.