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- Nature Communications
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- National Science Foundation
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Mancinelli, Giorgio (Ed.)The expected reduction of ice algae with declining sea ice may prove to be detrimental to the Pacific Arctic ecosystem. Benthic organisms that rely on sea ice organic carbon (iPOC) sustain benthic predators such as the Pacific walrus ( Odobenus rosmarus divergens ). The ability to track the trophic transfer of iPOC is critical to understanding its value in the food web, but prior methods have lacked the required source specificity. We analyzed the H-Print index, based on biomarkers of ice algae versus phytoplankton contributions to organic carbon in marine predators, in Pacific walrus livers collected in 2012, 2014 and 2016 from the Northern Bering Sea (NBS) and Chukchi Sea. We paired these measurements with stable nitrogen isotopes ( δ 15 N) to estimate trophic position. We observed differences in the contribution of iPOC in Pacific walrus diet between regions, sexes, and age classes. Specifically, the contribution of iPOC to the diet of Pacific walruses was higher in the Chukchi Sea (52%) compared to the NBS (30%). This regional difference is consistent with longer annual sea ice persistence in the Chukchi Sea. Within the NBS, the contribution of iPOC to walrus spring diet was higher in females (~45%) compared to males (~30%) for each year (p < 0.001), likely due to specific foraging behavior of females to support energetic demands associated with pregnancy and lactation. Within the Chukchi Sea, the iPOC contribution was similar between males and females, yet higher in juveniles than in adults. Despite differences in the origin of organic carbon fueling the system (sea ice versus pelagic derived carbon), the trophic position of adult female Pacific walruses was similar between the NBS and Chukchi Sea (3.2 and 3.5, respectively), supporting similar diets (i.e. clams). Given the higher quality of organic carbon from ice algae, the retreat of seasonal sea ice in recent decades may create an additional vulnerability for female and juvenile Pacific walruses and should be considered in management of the species.more » « less
Microalgae are the main source of the omega‐3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), essential for the healthy development of most marine and terrestrial fauna including humans. Inverse correlations of algal EPA and DHA proportions (% of total fatty acids) with temperature have led to suggestions of a warming‐induced decline in the global production of these biomolecules and an enhanced importance of high latitude organisms for their provision. The cold Arctic Ocean is a potential hotspot of EPA and DHA production, but consequences of global warming are unknown. Here, we combine a full‐seasonal EPA and DHA dataset from the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO), with results from 13 previous field studies and 32 cultured algal strains to examine five potential climate change effects; ice algae loss, community shifts, increase in light, nutrients, and temperature. The algal EPA and DHA proportions were lower in the ice‐covered CAO than in warmer peripheral shelf seas, which indicates that the paradigm of an inverse correlation of EPA and DHA proportions with temperature may not hold in the Arctic. We found no systematic differences in the summed EPA and DHA proportions of sea ice versus pelagic algae, and in diatoms versus non‐diatoms. Overall, the algal EPA and DHA proportions varied up to four‐fold seasonally and 10‐fold regionally, pointing to strong light and nutrient limitations in the CAO. Where these limitations ease in a warming Arctic, EPA and DHA proportions are likely to increase alongside increasing primary production, with nutritional benefits for a non‐ice‐associated food web.
Changes in sea ice thickness and extent have corresponded with substantial changes in net primary production (NPP) in the Arctic Ocean. In recent years, observations of massive phytoplankton blooms under sea ice have upended the previous paradigm that Arctic NPP was driven largely by growth in the marginal ice zone and open water periods. Here, a new 1‐D biogeochemical model capable of simulating ice algal and phytoplankton dynamics both under the ice and in open waters is applied in the northern Chukchi Sea for the years 1988–2018. Over this period, substantial under‐ice (UI) blooms were produced in all but four years and were the primary drivers of interannual variation in total NPP. While NPP in the UI period was highly variable interannually due to fluctuations in ice thickness and the length of the UI period, UI NPP accounted for nearly half of total NPP between 1988 and 2018. Further, years with high UI NPP had reduced annual zooplankton grazing, indicating an intensification in the mismatch between phytoplankton and zooplankton populations and possibly altering the partitioning of food between benthic and pelagic ecosystems. These results demonstrate that the often‐overlooked ice covered period can be highly productive in the Arctic Ocean, and that the northern Chukchi Sea has been amenable to UIB formation since at least 1988.
An assessment of the production, distribution and fate of highly branched isoprenoid (HBI) biomarkers produced by sea ice and pelagic diatoms is necessary to interpret their detection and proportions in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas. HBIs measured in surface sediments collected from 2012 to 2017 were used to determine the distribution and seasonality of the biomarkers relative to sea ice patterns. A northward gradient of increasing ice algae deposition was observed with localized occurrences of elevated IP25 (sympagic HBI) concentrations from 68–70˚N and consistently strong sympagic signatures from 71–72.5˚N. A declining sympagic signature was observed from 2012 to 2017 in the northeast Chukchi Sea, coincident with declining sea ice concentrations. HBI fluxes were investigated on the northeast Chukchi shelf with a moored sediment trap deployed from August 2015 to July 2016. Fluxes of sea ice exclusive diatoms (Nitzschia frigida and Melosira arctica) and HBI producing taxa (Pleurosigma, Haslea and Rhizosolenia spp.) were measured to confirm HBI sources and ice associations. IP25 was detected year-round, increasing in March 2016 (10 ng m-2 d-1) and reaching a maximum in July 2016 (1331 ng m-2 d-1). Snowmelt triggered the release of sea ice algae into the water column in May 2016, while under-ice pelagic production contributed to the diatom export in June and July 2016. Sea ice diatom fluxes were strongly correlated with the IP25 flux, however associations between pelagic diatoms and HBI fluxes were inconclusive. Bioturbation likely facilitates sustained burial of sympagic organic matter on the shelf despite the occurrence of pelagic diatom blooms. These results suggest that sympagic diatoms may sustain the food web through winter on the northeast Chukchi shelf. The reduced relative proportions of sympagic HBIs in the northern Bering Sea are likely driven by sea ice persistence in the region.more » « less
Sea ice loss is fundamentally altering the Arctic marine environment. Yet there is a paucity of data on the adaptability of food webs to ecosystem change, including predator–prey interactions. Polar bears (
Ursus maritimus) are an important subsistence resource for Indigenous people and an apex predator that relies entirely on the under‐ice food web to meet its energy needs. In this study, we assessed whether polar bears maintained dietary energy density by prey switching in response to spatiotemporal variation in prey availability. We compared the macronutrient composition of diets inferred from stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in polar bear guard hair (primarily representing summer/fall diet) during periods when bears had low and high survival (2004–2016), between bears that summered on land versus pack ice, and between bears occupying different regions of the Alaskan and Canadian Beaufort Sea. Polar bears consumed diets with lower energy density during periods of low survival, suggesting that concurrent increased dietary proportions of beluga whales ( Delphinapterus leucas) did not offset reduced proportions of ringed seals ( Pusa hispida). Diets with the lowest energy density and proportions from ringed seal blubber were consumed by bears in the western Beaufort Sea (Alaska) during a period when polar bear abundance declined. Intake required to meet energy requirements of an average free‐ranging adult female polar bear was 2.1 kg/day on diets consumed during years with high survival but rose to 3.0 kg/day when survival was low. Although bears that summered onshore in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea had higher‐fat diets than bears that summered on the pack ice, access to the remains of subsistence‐harvested bowhead whales ( Balaena mysticetus) contributed little to improving diet energy density. Because most bears in this region remain with the sea ice year round, prey switching and consumption of whale carcasses onshore appear insufficient to augment diets when availability of their primary prey, ringed seals, is reduced. Our results show that a strong predator–prey relationship between polar bears and ringed seals continues in the Beaufort Sea. The method of estimating dietary blubber using predator hair, demonstrated here, provides a new metric to monitor predator–prey relationships that affect individual health and population demographics.