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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 613:171-182 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12891

Extreme reduction in nutritional value of a key forage fish during the Pacific marine heatwave of 2014-2016

Vanessa R. von Biela1,*, Mayumi L. Arimitsu2, John F. Piatt1, Brielle Heflin2, Sarah K. Schoen1, Jannelle L. Trowbridge1,3, Chelsea M. Clawson1,4

1US Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, 4210 University Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99508, USA
2US Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, 250 Egan Dr., Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA
3University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program, 3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99508, USA
4Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, 1007 W 3rd Avenue, Suite 100, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Pacific sand lance Ammodytes personatus are a key forage fish in the North Pacific for many species of salmon, groundfish, seabirds, and marine mammals and have historically been important to predators in relatively warm years. However, extreme declines in the nutritional value of sand lance in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA, during 2012-2016 indicate that energy transfer from lower trophic levels to predators via sand lance may have been disrupted during the North Pacific marine heatwave in 2015 and 2016. Nutritional value (length, energy density, and whole-body energy) was measured in age-0 and age-1 sand lance collected during July in cool (2012-2013) and increasingly warm (2014-2016) years. The value of age-0 fish was relatively stable, with only minor differences among years for length and whole-body energy. By contrast, the value of age-1 fish significantly declined in 2015, and by 2016 they were 38% shorter and 13% lower in energy density compared to cooler years. This contributed to significant declines in whole-body energy of 44% in 2015 and 89% in 2016 compared to cooler years (2012-2014). The 2015 sand lance cohort experienced little growth or lipid accumulation from July 2015 at age-0 to July 2016 at age-1. This effective disruption of energy flow through pelagic food webs probably contributed to population declines and/or breeding failures observed among several predators in the Gulf of Alaska and suggests that tipping points were reached during the heatwave.


KEY WORDS: Pacific sand lance · Ammodytes personatus · ‘The Blob’ · Gulf of Alaska · Body condition · Energy density


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Cite this article as: von Biela VR, Arimitsu ML, Piatt JF, Heflin B, Schoen SK Trowbridge JL, Clawson CM (2019) Extreme reduction in nutritional value of a key forage fish during the Pacific marine heatwave of 2014-2016. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 613:171-182. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12891

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