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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 617-618:149-163 (2019)  -  DOI:

Effects of warming ocean conditions on feeding ecology of small pelagic fishes in a coastal upwelling ecosystem: a shift to gelatinous food sources

Richard D. Brodeur1,*, Mary E. Hunsicker1, Ashley Hann2, Todd W. Miller3

1NOAA, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Newport, OR 97365, USA
2University of North Carolina, Wilmington, NC 28403, USA
3NOAA, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Auke Bay, AK 99821, USA
*Corresponding author:
Advance View was available online April 17, 2018

ABSTRACT: Forage fish play a central role in the transfer of energy from lower to higher trophic levels. Ocean conditions may influence this energy pathway in the Northern California Current (NCC) ecosystem, and we may expect it to differ between warm and cold periods in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The recent unprecedented warming in the NCC provides a unique opportunity to better understand the connection between ocean conditions and forage fish feeding habits and the potential consequences for predators that depend on them for sustenance. Here we present findings from gut content analysis to examine food sources of multiple forage fishes (northern anchovy Engraulis mordax, Pacific sardine Sardinops sagax, jack mackerel Trachurus symmetricus, Pacific herring Clupea pallasii, surf smelt Hypomesus pretiosus, and whitebait smelt Allosmerus elongatus) off the Washington and Oregon coasts. Analyses were applied to fish collected in May and June during recent warm years (2015 and 2016) and compared to previous collections made during cool (2011, 2012) and average (2000, 2002) years. Results of the diet analysis indicate that fish feeding habits varied significantly between cold and both average and warm periods. Euphausiids, decapods, and copepods were the main prey items of the forage fishes for most years examined; however, gelatinous zooplankton were consumed in much higher quantities in warm years compared to cold years. This shift in prey availability was also seen in plankton and trawl surveys in recent years and suggests that changing ocean conditions are likely to affect the type and quality of prey available to forage fish. Although gelatinous zooplankton are generally not believed to be suitable prey for most fishes due to their low energy content, some forage fishes may utilize this prey in the absence of more preferred prey resources during anomalously warm ocean conditions.

KEY WORDS: Warm anomaly · Forage fishes · Feeding ecology · Feeding intensity · Gelatinous zooplankton

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Cite this article as: Brodeur RD, Hunsicker ME, Hann A, Miller TW (2019) Effects of warming ocean conditions on feeding ecology of small pelagic fishes in a coastal upwelling ecosystem: a shift to gelatinous food sources. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 617-618:149-163.

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