The Pacific marine heatwave (PMH) of 2014-2016 was an intense, long-lasting environmental disturbance expressed throughout the north Pacific. While dramatic consequences of the PMH on pelagic food webs have been well documented, effects on nearshore food webs, i.e., those based on macroalgae primary productivity, benthic invertebrate intermediate consumers, and specialized benthivorous top predators including some marine birds, are not well understood. We conducted summer and winter coastline surveys in two National Parks in the northern Gulf of Alaska from 2006 – 2022. We evaluated changes in abundance of benthivorous marine birds in relation to the heatwave, after accounting for effects of season and region. We also evaluated changes in abundance of nearshore benthic invertebrate prey data to allow specific consideration of a prey-based mechanism for effects of the PMH across food webs. We found that benthivorous marine birds, consisting largely of sea ducks and shorebirds, did not show a strong response to the PMH, unlike significant effects demonstrated by piscivorous birds in pelagic biomes. Unlike extreme reductions in quantity and quality of forage fish documented in other studies, we found that common benthic invertebrate prey abundance remained relatively stable, with only minor increases or decreases, in association with the PMH. Our results support the hypothesis that food availability has a strong mediating effect of the PMH on upper trophic levels across food webs. These findings show how a large-scale environmental perturbation affects biological communities through trophic pathways, provides insight into ecosystem resiliency, and can inform management strategies in the face of persistent climate change.
|Title||Lack of strong responses to the Pacific marine heatwave by benthivorous marine birds indicates importance of trophic drivers|
|Authors||Brian H. Robinson, Heather A. Coletti, Brenda Ballachey, James L. Bodkin, Kimberly A. Kloecker, Sarah Beth Traiger, Daniel Esler|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Series Title||Marine Ecology Progress Series|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Alaska Science Center Ecosystems|