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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14237

The northern Bering Sea zooplankton community response to variability in sea ice: evidence from a series of warm and cold periods

David G. Kimmel*, Lisa B. Eisner, Alexei I. Pinchuk

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Recent, unprecedented losses of sea ice have resulted in widespread changes in the northern Bering Sea ecosystem, and this study explores the zooplankton community response. Time-series observations were used to identify zooplankton community changes in the northern (>60°N) Bering Sea (NBS) over a 17 yr period (2002–2018). The overall objective was to determine if the changes in zooplankton populations previously described for the southeastern Bering Sea shelf (<60 °N) were also observed in the NBS over alternating warm and cold periods. Particular attention was paid to more recent (2014–2018) years that showed significant losses of sea ice in the NBS (2017/2018) in comparison to a prior warm period (2003–2005) and an intervening cold period (2006–2013). A multivariate framework (redundancy analysis) was used to explore correlations with environmental conditions, and differences in mean abundance across the differing warm and cold periods were tested. The NBS zooplankton community had different responses across each warm and cold period, and the primary driver for the differences in response was sea ice. Redundancy analysis demonstrated that the zooplankton community during the second warm period experienced greater variability compared to the prior warm period. The zooplankton community had higher abundances of small copepods and meroplankton and reduced abundances of Calanus spp. and chaetognaths during the most recent warm period. This suggests that the NBS zooplankton will not be impacted by reduced sea ice when the ice coverage extends south of 60°N, but show community change once a minimum threshold in ice extent and timing of retreat is reached. Shifts in the zooplankton community may have had cascading effects on higher trophic levels that were evident during the latter warm period.