As the most recent time in Earth history when global temperatures were warmer than at present, the peak of the last interglacial (Marine Isotope Substage [MIS] 5e; ~120,000 years ago) can serve as a pre-anthropogenic baseline for a warmer near-future world. Here we use a new compilation of 22 fossil localities in California that have been reliably dated to MIS 5e to establish baseline expectations for contemporary bivalve species movements by identifying and analyzing bivalve species with “extralimital” ranges, that is, species that occupied the California region during MIS 5e but are now restricted to adjacent regions. We find that 15% of species (n = 142) found in MIS 5e localities have extralimital ranges and currently occupy warmer waters to the south of the California region. The majority of extralimital occurrences occur in paleo-embayments, suggesting that these sheltered habitats were more suitable habitats for warm-water species than exposed coasts during the MIS 5e. We further find that extralimital species now tend to occur in cooler, more seasonally productive coastal waters and to occupy more offshore islands when compared with the broader species pool immediately south of California. These findings suggest that high dispersal potential and preexisting tolerances to environmental conditions similar to California's comparatively cool and seasonally productive environments may have enabled extralimital bivalves to colonize the California region during MIS 5e.

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