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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Climate shifts shorten marine food chain off California

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October 19, 2017 NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region read full ScienceDaily article here
Environmental disturbances such as El Niño shake up the marine food web off Southern California, new research shows, countering conventional thinking that the hierarchy of who-eats-who in the ocean remains largely constant over time.
“We documented for first time marked changes in the pelagic food web length in response to various natural and anthropogenic related stressors,” said lead author Rocio I. Ruiz-Cooley, formerly of NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center and now at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. “This tells us that the food web is very dynamic, and reveals changes with the ecosystem around it.”The finding helps scientists understand the health and resilience of the ecosystem, she said. A longer food chain is more typical, and reflects a relatively diverse community, while shorter chains occur during extreme environmental conditions and suggest a decline in that diversity.

During strong climate perturbations such as the 1997-1999 El Niño Southern Oscillation that included the most intense El Niño event of the century, which brought unusual warming to the U.S. West Coast, the food chain in the California Current shortened sharply, the scientists found. That coincided with declines in ocean productivity such as reduced growth of plankton, declines of some fish and birds and expanded ranges of some species such as jumbo squid, perhaps as they searched for scarce food or followed favorable temperatures….

Rocio I. Ruiz-Cooley, Tim Gerrodette, Paul C. Fiedler, Susan J. Chivers, Kerri Danil, Lisa T. Ballance. Temporal variation in pelagic food chain length in response to environmental change. Science Advances, 2017; 3 (10): e1701140 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701140

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