‘Wasp-waist’ control of marine ecosystems is driven by a combination of top-down and bottom-up forcing by a few abundant short-lived species occupying intermediate trophic levels that form a narrow ‘waist’ through which energy flow from low to high trophic levels is controlled. It has been assumed that wasp-waist control occurs primarily in highly productive and species-poor systems (e.g. upwelling regions). Two large, species-rich, pelagic ecosystems in the relatively oligotrophic eastern and western Pacific Ocean also show wasp-waist-like structure, in that short-lived and fast-growing cephalopods and fishes at intermediate trophic levels comprise the vast majority of the biomass. Possible forcing dynamics of these systems were examined using ecosystem models by altering the biomass of phytoplankton (bottom-up forcing), large pelagic predators (top-down forcing), and intermediate ‘wasp-waist’ functional groups independently and observing how these changes propagated throughout the ecosystem. The largest effects were seen when altering the biomass of mid trophic-level epipelagic and mesopelagic fishes, where dramatic trophic cascades occurred both upward and downward in the system. We conclude that the high productivity and standing biomass of animals at intermediate trophic levels has a strong top-down influence on the abundance of primary producers. Furthermore, their importance as prey for large predators results in bottom-up controls on populations at higher trophic levels. We show that these tropical pelagic ecosystems possess a complex structure whereby several waist groups and alternate trophic pathways from primary producers to apex predators can cause unpredictable effects when the biomasses of particular functional groups are altered. Such models highlight the possible structuring mechanisms in pelagic systems, which have implications for fisheries that exploit these wasp-waist groups, such as squid fisheries, as well as for fisheries of top predators such as tunas and billfishes that prey upon wasp-waist species.
Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries – Springer Journals
Published: Dec 29, 2012
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