National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

Winners and losers in a warming Arctic: Potential habitat gain and loss for epibenthic invertebrates of the Chukchi and Bering Seas

Logerwell, E., M. Wang, L. Jorgensen, and K. Rand

Deep-Sea Res. II, 206, 105210, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2022.105210, View online at Elsevier (external link) (2022)

Our goal was to examine how the epibenthic invertebrate community in the Pacific Arctic Region might be affected by continued increases in ocean temperatures. We used epibenthic invertebrate catch and bottom temperature data collected on groundfish assessment and ecosystem surveys in the Bering and Chukchi seas from 2009 to 2018 to determine the “preferred” temperature of all taxa. We grouped taxa into five clusters according to their similarity in median temperature and temperature range. We then used an ensemble of eight climate models under Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) scenarios to project bottom temperature from present (2008) to mid-century (2050) and end of the century (2100). Based on these projections, we show how the amount and distribution of cluster-specific thermal habitat might change with ocean warming. We found that by mid-century there was a 50% decrease in thermal habitat for all clusters except for the most eurythermic cluster, and that thermal habitat contracted to the north. By the end of the century there was very little thermal habitat for all clusters, except the most eurythermic cluster, and habitat was further contracted to the north. The cold-water and stenothermic cluster, hypothesized to be the most vulnerable to ocean warming, had virtually no projected thermal habitat by the end of the century. These “losers” were primarily gastropods and the bivalve mussel Musculus sp. These taxa are some of the primary prey to the endangered Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), which is harvested as a food resource in native Alaskan communities. Bivalves are prey for commercial flatfish such as yellowfin sole (Limanda aspera) and Alaska plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus). By 2100 the most eurythermic cluster, hypothesized to be the least vulnerable to warming, had projected suitable thermal habitat throughout most of the Bering and Chukchi seas, except nearshore coastal regions. The most abundant species of these “winners” was the basketstar Gorgonocephalus cf. arcticus. The loss of thermal habitat for all but the “winners” could impact the species diversity of the Bering and Chukchi seas because the “winner” cluster accounted for only 26 taxa or 8% of all taxa observed. Although temperature is a key determinant of habitat, a full habitat and ecosystem model is needed to provide more detailed predictions. In addition, more laboratory studies of thermal acclimation potential of Arctic benthic invertebrates are needed. Our results provide the first indications that the epibenthic invertebrate community in the Bering and Chukchi seas, which supports marine mammals, seabirds and human communities, may be seriously impacted by future ocean warming.

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