Biogeography of seabirds within a high-latitude ecosystem: Use of a data-assimilative ocean model to assess impacts of mesoscale oceanography
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Biogeography of seabirds within a high-latitude ecosystem: Use of a data-assimilative ocean model to assess impacts of mesoscale oceanography
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  • Source:
    Journal of Marine Systems, 178, 38-51.
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  • Description:
    We assessed the biogeography of seabirds within the Bering Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (LME), a highly productive and extensive continental shelf system that supports important fishing grounds. Our objective was to investigate how physical ocean conditions impact distribution of seabirds along latitudinal gradients. We tested the hypothesis that seabird biogeographic patterns reflect differences in ocean conditions relating to the boundary between northern and southern shelf ecosystems. We used a grid-based approach to develop spatial means (1975-2014) of summertime seabird species' abundance, species' richness, and a multivariate seabird assemblage index to examine species composition. Seabird indices were linked to ocean conditions derived from a data-assimilative oceanographic model to quantify relationships between physics (e.g., temperature, salinity, and current velocity), bathymetry and seabirds along latitudinal gradients. Species assemblages reflected two main sources of variation, a mode for elevated richness and abundance, and a mode related to partitioning of inner/middle shelf species from outer shelf-slope species. Overall, species richness and abundance increased markedly at higher latitudes. We found that latitudinal changes in species assemblages, richness and abundance indicates a major shift around 59-60 degrees N within inner and middle shelf regions, but not in the outer shelf. Within the middle shelf, latitudinal shifts in seabird assemblages strongly related to hydrographic structure, as opposed to the inner and outer shelf waters. As expected, elevated species richness and abundance was associated with major breeding colonies and within important coastal foraging areas. Our study also indicates that seabird observations supported the conclusion that the oceanographic model captured mesoscale variability of ocean conditions important for understanding seabird distributions and represents an important step for evaluating modeling and empirical studies. Biogeographic assessments of LMEs that integrate top predator distributions resolve critical habitat requirements and will benefit assessment of climate change impacts (e.g., sea-ice loss) predicted to affect high-latitude marine ecosystems.
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