Oceanographic gradients and seabird prey community dynamics in glacial fjords

Fisheries Oceanography
By: , and 

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Abstract

Glacial fjord habitats are undergoing rapid change as a result of contemporary global warming, yet little is known about how glaciers influence marine ecosystems. These ecosystems provide important feeding, breeding and rearing grounds for a wide variety of marine organisms, including seabirds of management concern. To characterize ocean conditions and marine food webs near tidewater glaciers, we conducted monthly surveys of oceanographic variables, plankton, fish and seabirds in Kenai Fjords, Alaska, from June to August of 2007 and 2008. We also measured tidal current velocities near glacial features. We found high sediment load from glacial river runoff played a major role in structuring the fjord marine ecosystem. Submerged moraines (sills) isolated cool, fresh, stratified and silt-laden inner fjord habitats from oceanic influence. Near tidewater glaciers, surface layers of turbid glacial runoff limited availability of light to phytoplankton, but macrozooplankton were abundant in surface waters, perhaps due to the absence of a photic cue for diel migration. Fish and zooplankton community structure varied along an increasing temperature gradient throughout the summer. Acoustic measurements indicated that low density patches of fish and zooplankton were available in the surface waters near glacial river outflows. This is the foraging habitat occupied most by Kittlitz's murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris), a rare seabird that appears to be specialized for life in glacially influenced environments. Kittlitz's murrelets were associated with floating glacial ice, and they were more likely to occur near glaciers, in deeper water, and in areas with high acoustic backscatter. Kittlitz's murrelet at-sea distribution was limited to areas influenced by turbid glacial outflows, and where prey was concentrated near the surface in waters with low light penetration. Tidewater glaciers impart unique hydrographic characteristics that influence marine plankton and fish communities, and this has cascading effects on marine food webs in these ecosystems.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Oceanographic gradients and seabird prey community dynamics in glacial fjords
Series title Fisheries Oceanography
DOI 10.1111/j.1365-2419.2012.00616.x
Volume 21
Issue 2-3
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Blackwell Scien
Publisher location Oxford, England
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 22 p.
First page 148
Last page 169
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N