Alaska Arctic Marine Fish Ecology Catalog: Beaufort & Chukchi Seas

The following is an abstract and highlights for a new publication on an Arctic fish catalog. It is about 1000 pages in 8 chapters. It will be available in pdf and hard copy sometime during the winter of 2014/2015.

For more information, contact : Thorsteinson, Lyman

Lyman Thorsteinson and Milton Love (editors), In Press

Abstract. The Fishes of Alaska was a major biodiversity milestone for Alaska and still remains as the authoritative guide for species identifications. Alaska Arctic Marine Fish Ecology Catalog: Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is similarly significant in its contribution to scientific understanding of Arctic marine fish ecology. It confirms the presence of 104 marine fish species from 22 families with 92 verified occurrences from the Chukchi Sea and 80 from the Beaufort Sea. It provides new information about species range extensions and probable species occurrences in the region. One particular emphasis of this document was to describe what is known about the biology and ecology of each species with respect to observations from Alaska, adjacent seas, and other locations. A species account for each marine fish summarizes what is known – and not known – about their geographic distribution, abundance, life history and habitats, community relationships and population ecology, and ecological niche in the Arctic marine environment. Each species account is meant to be an autonomous review of relevant data and information; each is fully referenced and key scientific literature sources were identified for quick access by users requiring additional detail. Many gaps in fishery understanding remain as much of the information presented was developed in scientific investigations conducted outside the Alaska study area. Even so, what is known about the life history traits of species, and groups of species, is instructive to their management and conservation.
Inventory. One hundred and four (104) marine fishes from 22 families are described and compared with respect to their occurrence in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Ninety-two (92) species are confirmed from the Chukchi Sea and 80 from the Beaufort Sea. Fourteen species are newly confirmed to the U.S. Arctic since the publication of Fishes of Alaska. Many of the common species are benthic, or demersal, in their habitat orientation. Small-sized marine species such as those representing Cottidae, Liparidae, Sticheadae, and Zoarcidae families, were common to both seas. The diversity of Salmonidae species reflects the plasticity of this group of fishes and its adaptive linkage to freshwaters. Our analysis supports high rates of Arctic endemism in both seas, and especially in the Beaufort Sea. Numerous range extensions and their sources are noted. It can be expected that the estimates of species diversity will increase with new sampling, with greater reliance on genetic and molecular identification aids, and in response to large-scale effects of changing environmental conditions on present patterns of regional fish distribution and abundance.
Species Accounts. The species accounts are a major biodiversity milestone confirming the presence of 104 marine fishes in 22 families in the U.S, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Each account describes what is presently known about the biology and ecology of each species with respect to observations taken from Alaska, adjacent seas, and other locations. A species account summarizes current information about geographic distribution, abundance, life history and habitats, community relationships and population ecology, and ecological roles. The existence of Inupiaq names for some species, but not others, provides an important measure of traditional values of these fish. Each species account represents ane autonomous review of relevant data and information; each is scientifically documented with key literature sources so that users will have easy access to additional detail from the studies reviewed. Collectively, this treatment is the most comprehensive inventory of species information undertaken for this segment of Alaska’s marine fish fauna to date. The species accounts are thorough respect to information presented, some of which reflects quantitative depictions of complex ecological concepts and population understanding. Information about life cycle requirements, trophic position, population resilience are essential to NEPA assessments of potential impacts from offshore energy development at population and ecosystem levels of biological organization.
Synthesis. Historical biogeography objectives address the probable origins of distributional patterns as determined from systematic studies. The description of origins is complicated and largely hypothetical because the paleoceanographic record is not well-developed from the U.S. Arctic. Despite this, species origins were examined in light of possible dispersal and vicariance events as suggested by paleontologic and geologic records, climatic histories, and known phylogenetic relationships. Information is limited, but when the known histories are compared with the phylogenetic record, preliminary results suggest that a majority of marine fish species currently residing in the U.S. Chukchi and Beaufort seas evolved from a Pacific ancestor. Ecological biogeography objectives address the environmental relationships including physiochemical factors (e.g., temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity), mechanisms (e.g., currents, migrations, and movements), and biological processes (e.g., competition, predation, colonization, and reproduction) that limit the distribution, relative abundance, and productivity of a species. Global warming effects on this part of the Arctic are rapidly occurring at twice the rate of change in lower latitudes. Changes in regional sea ice coverage, physical and chemical oceanography, and hydrology are expected to have profound effects on coastal and marine ecosystems. Northerly shifts in the distributions of many migratory marine fishes, such as Pacific salmon, are expected with physical changes in temperature and process changes associated with benthic-pelagic coupling over shelf waters.
Climate Change. Climate effects on the ecology of the Arctic marine environments are of local, regional, national and circumpolar interest and concern. At the species level, habitats are changing and, with respect to population limiting factors, there will be winners and losers. In the Eastern Bering Sea, Generalized Additive Modeling (GAM) predicts significant contraction and expansion in the marine distributions of Polar Cod and Saffron Cod, respectively. In the vernacular of winners and losers, Saffron Cod will be a winner and Polar Cod a loser. The biological interactions between these species are poorly known, but it is known that Polar Cod play a keystone role in the energetics of Arctic food webs as a consumer of primary productivity and significant prey resource for many marine fish and mammals. The potential for shifts in their distribution and abundance suggests the possibility for cascading effects in the marine ecosystem related to the forage base of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Although Polar and Saffron cods are not currently of commercial importance in North America, their ecological and subsistence values are considerable. Environmental changes in the Arctic marine that affect the distribution and abundance of these cods could, in the future, affect marine ecosystem functioning and the traditional and economic values of these and other Arctic fishes.

Funding for this study was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (Alaska OCS Region), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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