Existing estimates of fish and consumer biomass in the world's oceans are disparate. This creates uncertainty about the roles of fish and other consumers in biogeochemical cycles and ecosystem processes, the extent of human and environmental impacts and fishery potential. We develop and use a size-based macroecological model to assess the effects of parameter uncertainty on predicted consumer biomass, production and distribution. Resulting uncertainty is large (e.g. median global biomass 4.9 billion tonnes for consumers weighing 1 g to 1000 kg; 50% uncertainty intervals of 2 to 10.4 billion tonnes; 90% uncertainty intervals of 0.3 to 26.1 billion tonnes) and driven primarily by uncertainty in trophic transfer efficiency and its relationship with predator-prey body mass ratios. Even the upper uncertainty intervals for global predictions of consumer biomass demonstrate the remarkable scarcity of marine consumers, with less than one part in 30 million by volume of the global oceans comprising tissue of macroscopic animals. Thus the apparently high densities of marine life seen in surface and coastal waters and frequently visited abundance hotspots will likely give many in society a false impression of the abundance of marine animals. Unexploited baseline biomass predictions from the simple macroecological model were used to calibrate a more complex size- and trait-based model to estimate fisheries yield and impacts. Yields are highly dependent on baseline biomass and fisheries selectivity. Predicted global sustainable fisheries yield increases ≈4 fold when smaller individuals (< 20 cm from species of maximum mass < 1kg) are targeted in all oceans, but the predicted yields would rarely be accessible in practice and this fishing strategy leads to the collapse of larger species if fishing mortality rates on different size classes cannot be decoupled. Our analyses show that models with minimal parameter demands that are based on a few established ecological principles can support equitable analysis and comparison of diverse ecosystems. The analyses provide insights into the effects of parameter uncertainty on global biomass and production estimates, which have yet to be achieved with complex models, and will therefore help to highlight priorities for future research and data collection. However, the focus on simple model structures and global processes means that non-phytoplankton primary production and several groups, structures and processes of ecological and conservation interest are not represented. Consequently, our simple models become increasingly less useful than more complex alternatives when addressing questions about food web structure and function, biodiversity, resilience and human impacts at smaller scales and for areas closer to coasts.
Jennings, S., & Collingridge, K. (2015). Predicting consumer biomass, size-structure, production, catch potential, responses to fishing and associated uncertainties in the world’s marine ecosystems. PLoS ONE, 10(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0133794