MEPS 241:161-181 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps241161

Fat content and fatty acid composition of forage fish and invertebrates in Prince William Sound, Alaska: factors contributing to among and within species variability

Sara J. Iverson1,*, Kathryn J. Frost2, Shelley L. C. Lang1

1Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, 1355 Oxford St., Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada
2Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, 1300 College Road, Fairbanks, Alaska 99701, USA

ABSTRACT: We determined the fat content and fatty acid composition of 26 species of fish and invertebrates (n = 1153) that are primary forage species of piscivorous seabirds and marine mammals in Prince William Sound (PWS), Alaska. Flatfish, shrimps and octopus had the lowest average fat contents (~1.0%), although some cods, as well as juvenile walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma, Pacific herring Clupea harengus pallasi and pink salmon Oncorhynchus gorbuscha also ranged as low as 0.5 to 0.7% fat. The highest fat contents were found in eulachon Thaleichthys pacificus (25%), adult herring (21%) and the squid Berrytheuthis magister (5 to 13%). Within species, fat content varied mostly with season, but also with size. Fatty acid signatures generally distinguished forage species, with up to 95% of individuals correctly classified using either discriminant or classification and regression tree (CART) analyses. Discriminant plots provided insight into the relationships between fatty acid signatures of different species. Species with similar life histories and diets clustered closer together, while those with the greatest differences in ecology differed most in their fatty acid patterns. Within some species, changes in fatty acid signatures were apparent with increasing size and were consistent with known dietary shifts reported from stomach contents analyses. Furthermore, fatty acid signatures of Age 0 (yr) pollock and herring in PWS were consistent with previous stomach contents analysis that indicated annual differences in the timing of dietary changes from eating zooplankton to piscivory. Overall, when size/age classes were taken into account, species classification using fatty acid signatures was improved. Our findings have important implications for evaluating diets and food web interactions of fish stocks, as well as at higher trophic levels. Despite individual variation within species, our results indicate that fatty acid signatures accurately characterize forage species in this ecosystem, and consequently can be used to study and perhaps estimate the species composition of diets of their predators.

KEY WORDS: Fatty acids · Forage fish · Food webs · Trophic interactions

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