Spatio-temporal distribution of euphausiids: an important component to understanding ecosystem processes in the Gulf of Alaska and eastern Bering Sea

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Euphausiids (principally Thysanoessa spp.) are found in high abundance in both the eastern Bering Sea (EBS) and the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). They are an important part of these cold-water coastal and pelagic ecosystems as a key prey item for many species, including marine mammals, seabirds, and fish, forming an ecological link between primary production and higher trophic levels. Acoustic-trawl (AT) survey methods provide a means of monitoring euphausiid abundance and distribution over a large spatial scale. Four years of AT and bottom-trawl survey data (2003, 2005, 2011, and 2013) were available from consistently sampled areas around Kodiak Island, including Shelikof Strait, Barnabas Trough, and Chiniak Trough. We identified euphausiid backscatter using relative frequency response and targeted trawling, and created an annual index of abundance for euphausiids. This index has broad application, including use in the stock assessments for GOA walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) and other species, as an ecosystem indicator, and to inform ecological research. We then used generalized additive models (GAMs) to examine the relationship between relative euphausiid abundance and potential predictors, including pollock abundance, temperature, bottom depth, and primary production. Model results were compared with an updated GAM of euphausiid abundance from the EBS to determine if the factors driving abundance and distribution were consistent between both systems. Temperature was not a strong predictor of euphausiid abundance in the GOA as in the EBS; warmer temperatures and lack of seasonal ice cover in the GOA may be a key difference between these ecosystems. Pollock abundance was significant in both the GOA and the EBS models, but was not a strongly negative predictor of euphausiid abundance in either system, a result not consistent with top-down control of euphausiid abundance.

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