The ecological role of Pyrosoma atlanticum in the Northern California Current

In the last three years, fishermen off the coast of Oregon have been baffled and alarmed by the sudden appearance of thousands of rod-shaped, jelly-like animals fouling their gear and dominating their catches. Beach-goers, too, have been fascinated by these creatures that, at times, appear to form a blanket on the sand when washed up in the surf. These animals are pyrosomes, and they are typically considered a warm water species, rarely encountered north of southern California. But, in the last three years, pyrosomes have become increasingly abundant in the Northern California Current (NCC) off the coast of Oregon and even up into the Gulf of Alaska. So abundant, that a recent fisheries survey caught 18,000 pyrosomes in a 5-minute trawl. It is not clear what effect this will have on local marine food webs, but limited data available indicate that pyrosomes could compete with other important species for food and could potentially change the marine food web of the NCC. There have been only a few studies conducted, globally, on pyrosomes and this lack of information is limiting scientific understanding of the implications of increased pyrosome occurrence in the NCC. Therefore, there is an urgent need to learn more about the species so that researchers can better understand its potential impact. Research conducted as part of this project will provide important insight into the possible ecological effects of the appearance of pyrosomes in the NCC. The study will be useful to researchers working in other regions, like the Gulf of Alaska, where pyrosomes have also become more abundant in recent years. The results of the project will also advance scientific understanding of the species at a global level.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation as a RAPID (NSF Proposal # 1838492).