Sea birds as proxies of marine habitats and food webs in the western Aleutian Arc

  • Springer A
  • Piatt J
  • Van Vliet G
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Abstract

We propose that ocean conditions of the Near Islands in the western Aleutian Are mimic those of the shallow continental shelf of the eastern Bering Sea to the extent that the marine community, including assemblages of forage fishes and their avian predators, has distinctly coastal characteristics. In contrast, marine avifauna and their prey at neighbouring Buldir Island are distinctly oceanic. For example, at the Near Islands, the ratio of thick-billed to common murres, Uria lomvia and U. aalge, is low and black-legged kittiwakes, Rissa tridactyla, but not red-legged kittiwakes, R. brevirostris, nest there. Diets of murres and kittiwakes are dominated by sand lance, Ammodytes hexapterus, an abundant coastal species. At Buldir Island, thick-billed murres greatly outnumber common murres, red-legged kittiwakes and black-legged kittiwakes are both abundant, and diets of the birds consist primarily of oceanic squid and lantern-fish (Myctophidae). This mesoscale difference in food webs is apparently a consequence of the local physiography. A broad escarpment on the Near physiographic block creates a comparatively expansive, shallow, shelf-like habitat around the Near Islands, where a pelagic community typical of coastal regions flourishes. Buldir Island is the only emergent feature of the Buldir physiographic block, with little shallow water surrounding it and, apparently, little opportunity for other than oceanic species to exist. Patterns in the distribution of fishes, and thus of sea birds, throughout the Aleutian Islands might be largely explained by the presence or absence of shelf-like habitat and the relationship between physical environments and food webs. In the larger context of fisheries oceanography, this model for the Aleutian Islands improves our ability to interpret physical and biological heterogeneity in the ocean and its relationship to regional community dynamics and trends in the abundance and productivity of individual species at higher trophic levels.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Aleutian Islands
  • Bering Sea
  • Food web
  • Forage fish
  • Marine ecology
  • Sea bird

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