2023 122 ENV

Analyzing Storm Patterns in ‘Pre’ and ‘Post’ Categorizations to Test for Behavioral Plasticity in Leptasterias

By: Nicole Hlushko, Cassandra Vaniotis

Department: Biology

Faculty Advisor: Dr. C. Sarah Cohen

Climate change is causing more frequent and intense storms. The state of California has experienced record storm patterns and precipitation amounts over the past several years, such weather patterns may have strong impacts on intertidal or nearshore organisms. Questions arise regarding how marine organisms are able to adapt and overcome these environmental pressures, such as increased wave action and lower salinity. Leptasterias is a genus of sea star, this small but mighty intertidal predator is characterized by having six arms. Studies of the sea star Leptasterias have indicated that habitat partitioning occurs in relation to wave exposure. To understand how extreme storms may alter habitat partitioning behaviors, it is necessary to categorize storm impacts. This project analyzed the precipitation patterns in San Mateo and Trinidad counties using weather archive data to categorize collections of Leptasterias samples as ‘pre storm’ or ‘post storm’. Behavioral tests measuring writing response and attachment levels were performed in the field from October 2021 to October 2022 on Leptasterias collected from wave-exposed and wave-protected intertidal zones. The results of the behavioral tests were analyzed to determine if storm patterns and precipitation amounts may coincide with observed shifts in behavior. For example, we predict an increase in righting time and attachment strength in sea stars post-storm, suggesting the possibility of short term behavioral plasticity.