Original Paper

Marine Biology

, Volume 160, Issue 6, pp 1497-1510

First online:

Regional extinction of a conspicuous dorid nudibranch (Mollusca: Gastropoda) in California

  • Jeffrey H. R. GoddardAffiliated withMarine Science Institute, University of California Email author 
  • , Maria C. SchaeferAffiliated with
  • , Craig HooverAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, California State University
  • , Ángel ValdésAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, California State Polytechnic University

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Felimare californiensis (=Hypselodoris californiensis) was once common throughout the Southern California Bight (SCB) and California Channel Islands. This well-known shallow-water nudibranch, which specializes on dysideid sponges, has persisted for decades in Mexico, but in California disappeared from its entire range by 1984. Since reappearing in 2003, it has been found only at Santa Catalina Island, plus sightings of single individuals in 2011 at Santa Cruz Island and San Diego. The decline of F. californiensis in California was documented using published historical records, museum collections, unpublished field accounts, and images posted online. The loss of this emblematic species is unique among Californian nudibranchs, including (1) its congener Felimare porterae (=Mexichromis porterae), with which it appears to overlap in diet, and (2) opisthobranch species with similar historical geographic ranges and mode of development. The decline in F. californiensis is not predicted by warming trends and climate variation over the past 40 years, including the strong El Niño events of 1983 and 1998. Coastal pollution from the large human population in southern California may have impacted Dysidea amblia, the primary reported prey of F. californiensis. Historical overcollecting of the nudibranch and habitat loss through the development of major ports likely also contributed to its decline. Sightings since 2003 are consistent with a nascent recovery, as elements of water quality have improved in the SCB in recent decades.