Aarhus University Seal

The co-distribution of Arctic cod and its seabird predators across the marginal ice zone in Baffin Bay

New publication by Mathieu LeBlanc, Stéphane Gauthier, Svend Erik Garbus, Anders Mosbech, Louis Fortier


 Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) is the dominant pelagic fish in Arctic seas and a staple food of many arctic predators including several seabird species. Marginal ice zones are known as important feeding locations for seabirds. The hypothesis that thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia), northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) and black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) congregate in areas of high Arctic cod food resource and low ice concentration was tested at different spatial scales. Arctic cod biomass was estimated by hydroacoustics as a resource proxy, and seabirds were counted and sampled for stomach analysis along eight longitudinal transects across the marginal ice zone in southern Baffin Bay in June–July 2016. With increasing length, the epipelagic age-0 Arctic cod migrated from open waters to ice-covered areas. Subsequently, age-1 and age-2 Arctic cod tended to concentrate in a subsurface layer (40–100 m) within the epipelagic layer. Arctic cod 5.7–16.1 cm long (late age-0 to age-5) were the main fish prey of the three seabird species, which preferentially captured age-1 cod (6–11.5 cm). At large spatial scale (western versus eastern Baffin Bay), thick-billed murre, northern fulmar and their Arctic cod resource proxy were generally more abundant on the western ice-covered side of Baffin Bay. No clear spatial match was found, however, when comparing seabird abundances and their food-resource proxy in different ice concentrations across the marginal ice zone or at small scale (5 km). At medium scale (12.5 km), only murre density was influenced positively by its Arctic cod resource. A lack of schooling behavior and a successful strategy to avoid predation by hiding under the ice could explain the absence of any strong spatial match between Arctic cod and its seabird predators at these different scales.  

Elem Sci Anth, 7(1), p.1. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.339