From Beach to Beach

— Written by Emma Saas

Rising sea levels and beach erosion create problems for important intertidal species, such as beach hoppers, normally found on sandy beaches. Their sandy environment is shrinking, and scientists are wondering how well they will find new real estate. The distribution and abundance of different each hopper species may vary among southern California shores, but one can find beach hoppers, such as Megalorchestia corniculata, on many beaches. The dispersal of beach hoppers from beach to beach may be an important factor in the distribution of the four common species.

Yachts are a little bit pricey for our tiny beach hoppers, so how can they move from one beach to the next? The answer may be drift kelp, an important resource for marine environments that is produced by off-shore kelp forests. Beach hoppers can cling to drifting kelp and perhaps use this mechanisms as a lift to new beaches. How well they can cling, however, is an important question. Ideally, beach hoppers may be able to survive rising sea levels by clinging to drift kelp after it washes onto the shore and then leave with it as it floats to its next destination. An added bonus? Kelp is also food for these traveling beach hoppers! They’re able to sustain themselves for free while traveling (personally, Delta charges me excessive amounts for the same thing), which could enhance their survival on longer trips to a new beach.


Beach hopper climbing in Macrocystis pyrifera, otherwise known as giant
kelp, commonly found on California beaches washing in from the kelp forests

Sea level rise will lead to habitat changes and a requirement for flexibility. According to recent studies, 25% of beaches are eroding worldwide and up to 67% of beaches in southern California could disappear by the end of the century. Creatures who made their homes on sandy beaches will see a significant narrowing of their stomping ground. Their ability to disperse to and from different beaches on kelp may reflect how well they can move around once sea levels are consistently encroaching on their living space.

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