Pacific sand lance Ammodytes personatus are a key forage fish in the North Pacific for many species of salmon, groundfish, seabirds, and marine mammals and have historically been important to predators in relatively warm years. However, extreme declines in the nutritional value of sand lance in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA, during 2012-2016 indicate that energy transfer from lower trophic levels to predators via sand lance may have been disrupted during the North Pacific marine heatwave in 2015 and 2016. Nutritional value (length, energy density, and whole-body energy) was measured in age-0 and age-1 sand lance collected during July in cool (2012-2013) and increasingly warm (2014-2016) years. The value of age-0 fish was relatively stable, with only minor differences among years for length and whole-body energy. By contrast, the value of age-1 fish significantly declined in 2015, and by 2016 they were 38% shorter and 13% lower in energy density compared to cooler years. This contributed to significant declines in whole-body energy of 44% in 2015 and 89% in 2016 compared to cooler years (2012-2014). The 2015 sand lance cohort experienced little growth or lipid accumulation from July 2015 at age-0 to July 2016 at age-1. This effective disruption of energy flow through pelagic food webs probably contributed to population declines and/or breeding failures observed among several predators in the Gulf of Alaska and suggests that tipping points were reached during the heatwave.
Von Biela, V. R., Arimitsu, M. L., Piatt, J. F., Heflin, B., Schoen, S. K., Trowbridge, J. L., & Clawson, C. M. (2019). Extreme reduction in nutritional value of a key forage fish during the pacific marine heatwave of 2014-2016. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 613, 171–182. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12891