MEPS 538:197-211 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11470

Changing trophic structure and energy dynamics in the Northwest Atlantic: implications for Atlantic salmon feeding at West Greenland

Mark D. Renkawitz1,*, Timothy F. Sheehan1, Heather J. Dixon2, Rasmus Nygaard3

1National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
2University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada
3Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Kivioq 2, PO Box 570, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Changes in large-scale climate conditions in the Northwest Atlantic caused a phase shift in productivity, altering trophic pathways that influence the growth, survival, and abundance of many species. Despite diverse population structures and management regimes, concurrent abundance declines in disparate North American and European Atlantic salmon populations suggest that conditions experienced at common marine areas may be causative. To understand the trophic mechanisms contributing to population declines, 1451 Atlantic salmon stomachs were collected and examined from individuals caught between 2006 and 2011 at the West Greenland feeding grounds. Standardized stomach content weights and stomach composition varied among years but not between stock complexes. Atlantic salmon consumed a variety of prey taxa, primarily capelin and Themisto sp., over a broad size spectrum. Standardized stomach content weight and proportions of taxa consumed were similar between historical (1965-1970) and contemporary samples, although lower-quality boreoatlantic armhook squid, nearly absent from historical data, was of moderate importance in contemporary samples, while higher-quality capelin decreased in importance. Furthermore, from 1968-2008 mean energy density estimates of capelin, the regional keystone forage species, decreased approximately 33.7%. This resulted in lower estimates of total energy consumption by Atlantic salmon over time. Results indicate that altered trophic dynamics caused by 40 yr of changing ocean conditions negatively influenced Atlantic salmon and likely many other commercially, culturally, and ecologically important species in the Northwest Atlantic. Determining the primary mechanisms that influence marine food-webs is necessary to fully understand and evaluate survival and productivity trends and to establish realistic management targets for commercial, recreational, and protected species.


KEY WORDS: Northwest Atlantic · Greenland · Atlantic salmon · Capelin · Diet · Food quality · Energy density


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Cite this article as: Renkawitz MD, Sheehan TF, Dixon HJ, Nygaard R (2015) Changing trophic structure and energy dynamics in the Northwest Atlantic: implications for Atlantic salmon feeding at West Greenland. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 538:197-211. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11470

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