Resilience of the Eastern Chukchi Sea Food Web to Mortality Based Perturbations and Identification of Ecologically Important Species

George Andrew Whitehouse, University of Washington, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Seattle, WA, United States and Kerim Aydin, NOAA/Alaska Fisheries Science Center, WA, United States
Evidence of climate impacts on Arctic marine ecosystems is accumulating and Arctic marine ecosystems face additional pressures that may accompany increasing human activities due to improved access following reductions in sea ice cover. Thus, there is growing demand for information on how Arctic ecosystems may respond to potential disturbance. We explore the response of the eastern Chukchi Sea food web to mortality based perturbations using the dynamic food web modeling framework, Ecopath with Ecosim. We generated thousands of ecosystems by drawing random sets of model parameters from informative prior distributions and only retained those ecosystems that resulted in plausible, numerically stable configurations (no extinctions or population growth without limit). To perturb the systems, we increased mortality rates for selected functional groups then ran the retained models forward 50 years to examine how the biomass of other functional groups responded, and evaluated the resilience of the food web as the time for all functional groups to return to within 10 percent of their starting biomass. Ecologically important species were identified as those species (or functional groups of species) for whom changes in mortality had the greatest effect on the remainder of the food web. We also report on how a selection of ecosystem scale properties were affected by selected perturbations, including mean biomass longevity, the distribution of biomass across trophic levels, and a selection of dimensionless biomass ratios. These perturbations simulate a range of potential impacts that mortality events may have on the food web of the eastern Chukchi Sea, and indicate the directional response of other species and functional groups to these simulated events. This information will be of value to decision makers and resource managers developing guidelines for commercial and industrial development in the eastern Chukchi Sea.