“What we want to know is, given that this is a process that happens over time, can marine animals adapt? Could evolution come to the rescue?” says postdoctoral researcher Morgan Kelly, from the department of ecology, evolution, and marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Easily identified by their spherical symmetry and prickly barbs, sea urchins are found on the sea floor all over the world. They are considered a keystone species, meaning their population has an important impact on the rest of the undersea ecosystem. Too many of them and their habitat becomes barren and other algae-eating species disappear; too few and their predators—including sea mammals, seabirds, and fish—lose an important food source.