Arctic Lagoons Host Unique Fish Communities Shaped by Environment

Jenn Hoskins
13th May, 2024

Arctic Lagoons Host Unique Fish Communities Shaped by Environment

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In Alaska's Beaufort Sea, wind and salinity levels significantly affect local fish populations
  • West-East winds and higher salinity favor marine species, while lower salinity supports freshwater fish
  • These findings help predict how fish communities may change due to climate impacts and human activities
The Arctic region is facing rapid environmental changes that have significant implications for its ecosystems, particularly for the fish species that are a vital part of local subsistence economies. One of the most pressing issues is the retreat of sea ice, which is occurring at unprecedented rates due to global warming[2]. This retreat affects not only the ice-associated food web but also the nearshore fish communities that are critical for Indigenous communities in the Arctic. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center[1] has shed light on how these changes are affecting fish communities in the Beaufort Sea's estuarine ecosystems. Over three summers from 2017 to 2019, researchers collected data on fish abundance and community composition. They discovered that the fish communities varied considerably over larger spatial extents, with estuarine plumes from rivers supporting diadromous species like the broad whitefish (Coregonus nasus), while lagoons with higher salinities favored marine species such as the saffron cod (Eleginus gracilis). The study found that wind conditions, particularly West-East directional winds, could explain up to 66% of the variation in these fish communities. This highlights the role of wind in influencing the balance between fresh and marine water masses in these estuarine ecosystems. Moreover, salinity and temperature were also found to be significant factors, accounting for up to 54% and 37% of the variation among lagoon communities, respectively. The findings of this study are particularly important in the context of the rapid decline in sea ice. The reduction in ice cover allows for more wind interaction with oceanographic conditions, which in turn impacts the biological communities in these nearshore habitats. Understanding these relationships is crucial for predicting how fish communities might respond to ongoing climatic changes and human activities such as subsistence practices, potential commercial fishing, and oil and gas exploration. Prior research has emphasized the importance of understanding the physicochemical drivers of fish abundance in Arctic nearshore waters[3]. The use of generalized additive models (GAMs) in earlier studies has shown that temperature, pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen play significant roles in determining fish abundance, with temperature being the most important predictor for many species. The current study builds on these findings by providing detailed data on fish spatial distributions and community composition, which is essential for anticipating future changes in fish communities. Additionally, the concept of environmental filtering, which shapes ecological communities by selecting species that can survive under certain environmental conditions, has been previously explored[4]. The current study contributes to our understanding of how environmental filters such as salinity and temperature affect Arctic fish communities on a larger spatial scale. It also demonstrates the added complexity introduced by wind-driven processes, which can significantly alter the distribution of fresh and marine waters, affecting the habitats of various fish species. In conclusion, the recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center provides valuable insights into the spatial variation among Arctic nearshore fish communities and the environmental drivers that influence them. As the Arctic continues to experience rapid environmental changes, studies like these are essential for understanding the dynamics of these ecosystems and for managing them sustainably. This research not only informs us about the current state of fish communities but also serves as a foundation for predicting how they may change in the face of ongoing climatic shifts and human activities.

EnvironmentEcologyMarine Biology


Main Study

1) Local environmental conditions structured discrete fish assemblages in Arctic lagoons

Published 10th May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Polar cod in jeopardy under the retreating Arctic sea ice.

3) Characterization of the abiotic drivers of abundance of nearshore Arctic fishes.

4) The scale-dependent effect of environmental filters on species turnover and nestedness in an estuarine benthic community.

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