Zooplankton distribution in the western Arctic during summer 2002: Hydrographic habitats and implications for food chain dynamics

Peter V.Z. Lane, Leopoldo Llinás, Sharon L. Smith, Dora Pilz

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69 Scopus citations


Global warming is presently a widely accepted phenomenon with a broad range of anticipated impacts on marine ecosystems. Alterations in temperature, circulation and ice cover in Arctic seas may result in changes in food chain dynamics, beginning with planktonic processes. As part of the Shelf-Basin Interactions (SBI) program, we conducted zooplankton surveys during summer 2002 to assess the biomass, distribution and abundance of copepods and other pelagic zooplankton over the Chukchi and Beaufort shelves, slope regions and the adjacent Canada Basin. The motivation for our fieldwork was the question, "Will global change, particularly warming, result in more large-sized zooplankton which support a pelagic food web of fish, birds, and certain mammals over the Chukchi and Beaufort shelves or in more smaller-sized zooplankton which will diminish the fish, birds and mammals and favor sedentary benthic organisms?" The objectives of the present study were 1) to census the regional zooplankton community and establish a baseline for comparisons with historical and future studies and 2) to determine whether large-bodied copepods associated with deep waters of the Bering Sea or the Canada Basin were transported to the shelves in sufficient numbers to modify the food web in a region where smaller copepods often dominate the zooplankton numerically. Spatial distributions of zooplankton communities were clearly associated with hydrographic habitats determined by the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of the upper water layer. Smaller taxa dominated the shelf communities while offshore zooplankton assemblages were characterized by large-bodied copepods. The mesozooplankton community was numerically dominated by copepod nauplii and small-bodied juveniles, including Pseudocalanus spp. and Oithona similis. We observed very few large-bodied copepods from the Bering Sea. However, much of the shelf region surveyed included relatively numerous Calanus glacialis juveniles and adults, suggesting that these copepods were advected onto the shelf and possibly reproducing there. Juvenile stages of the large-bodied copepod Calanus hyperboreus were found in relative abundance on the Chukchi shelf in the vicinity of Hanna Canyon. These observations suggest that large-bodied, deep-water species from the basin are advected onto the Chukchi Shelf where they may impact the fate of shelf-derived primary production and alter the food webs of the shelves. Regional comparisons of abundances of selected taxa enumerated in the present study with sample data from the early 1950s suggested that some taxa were more abundant in the SBI region in 2002 than ca. 50 years ago. Long-term changes in planktonic populations are expected to have significant implications for shelf-basin exchange of biogenic material in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the adjacent Arctic Basin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-133
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Marine Systems
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Arctic
  • Beaufort Sea
  • Chukchi Sea
  • Copepods
  • Food webs
  • Transport mechanisms
  • Zooplankton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Oceanography


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