Linking Prey to Predator: Scale Dependence and Oceanographic Influence in Marine Food Webs
Increased pressure has been placed on researchers to focus on processes at an ecosystem level. However, ecological processes operate at multiple scales from an individual predator up to ocean basin migrations, and research across these scales is extremely difficult. More accurate and detailed understanding of prey distributions relative to physical and biological features can greatly aid in understanding top predator distributions and ultimately ecosystem functioning. High resolution acoustic data is a critical tool that can be used to investigate food web linkages at many spatial scales. At a broad scale, migratory top predators are often modeled relative to oceanographic structure as a proxy for the distribution of their prey. At a fine scale, combining novel technologies including fisheries acoustics, real time oceanographic sensors, and digital tags allows examination of decisions made by an individual foraging whale. In the Gulf of Mexico, fish distributions at fine scales (both horizontal and vertical) were examined relative to hypoxic bottom waters to understand potential ecosystem effects. Forage fish distribution (sand lance, Ammodytes spp.) were measured relative to physical features and oceanographic processes up to the decision making of a top predator, the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). The effect of geostrophic currents and environmental regimes on the deep scattering layers of the central tropical pacific were examined relative to sightings of marine mammals in the area. Analyses across trophic levels and at multiple scales is an important step towards understanding community ecology and ecosystem processes in pelagic systems.
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