The discipline of ecosystem oceanography provides a framework for assessing the role of mesoscale physical processes on the formation and occurrence of biological hotspots. We used shipboard surveys over nine years to investigate environmental determinants of seabird hotspots near the Antarctic Peninsula, a region experiencing rapid climate change and an expanding krill fishery. We hypothesize that seabird hotspots are structured by mesoscale ocean conditions that reflect differences in prey distribution within oceanic and coastal waters. We used generalized additive models to quantify functional relationships of seabird hotspots with krill biomass, and a suite of remotely sensed environmental variables, such as eddy kinetic energy. The spatial organization, changes in intensity, and distribution shifts of seabird hotspots indicate different environmental drivers within coastal and oceanic domains and reflect the seasonal variability of the ecosystem. Our results indicate at least eight mesoscale hotspot zones that represent ecologically important areas where significant krill and predator biomass may be concentrated. Our ecosystem assessment of seabird hotspots identified critical foraging habitat and provided reference points to benefit research on estimating their trophic impacts on Antarctic ecosystems and potential effects from the krill fishery. Our approach is generally applicable to other pelagic ecosystems that are structured by hydrographic fronts and eddies, and containing schooling forage species shared by multiple wide-ranging predators. Furthermore, identification of biological hotspots is useful for the designation of marine protected areas most critical to potentially endangered wildlife and fisheries resources.
Ecosystems – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 15, 2016
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