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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 688:153-166 (2022)  -  DOI:

Recent divergent changes in Alaskan pinniped trophic position detected using compound-specific stable isotope analysis

Megan L. Feddern1,*, Eric J. Ward2, Amanda J. Warlick1, Gordon W. Holtgrieve1

1School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, 1122 NE Boat Street, Seattle, WA 98105, USA
2Conservation Biology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Over the past century, Alaskan pinnipeds have experienced dramatic changes in abundance, but these changes have been highly variable across species and regions. In recent decades, changes in atmospheric forcing and sea surface temperature have been particularly pronounced in the Gulf of Alaska and eastern Bering Sea, impacting the food webs in which Alaskan pinnipeds forage. We used compound-specific stable isotope analysis of nitrogen in amino acids to estimate historic and modern trophic positions of harbor seals Phoca vitulina and Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus in the Gulf of Alaska and Bristol Bay. We applied a Bayesian hierarchical framework to determine whether shared trends through time exist across pinnipeds (classified by region and species) on decadal scales. Model results identified both shared trends through time and classification-specific decadal changes in pinniped trophic position. The largest change in trophic position occurred in the 2000s and 2010s and was observed in both Steller sea lions (median: 2.8) and harbor seals (median: 3.1) in the Gulf of Alaska, but not harbor seals in Bristol Bay or Iliamna Lake. Divergent trophic position patterns in the 2000s were identified in the western stock of Steller sea lions, which increased in trophic position, and sympatric harbor seals in the northern Gulf of Alaska, which decreased in trophic position. Our results indicate that these species have been experiencing unique food web conditions in recent decades in the Gulf of Alaska, likely in response to recent climate-induced ecological change in the region.

KEY WORDS: Harbor seal · Steller sea lion · Compound-specific stable isotope analysis · Trophic position · Alaska · Phoca vitulina · Eumetopias jubatus

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Cite this article as: Feddern ML, Ward EJ, Warlick AJ, Holtgrieve GW (2022) Recent divergent changes in Alaskan pinniped trophic position detected using compound-specific stable isotope analysis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 688:153-166.

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