, Volume 37, Issue 7, pp 911-939
Date: 01 Apr 2014

A trophic mass balance model of the eastern Chukchi Sea with comparisons to other high-latitude systems

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The Chukchi Sea is a seasonally ice-covered, marginal Arctic-shelf sea that possesses both large petroleum reserves and abundant biological communities, including migratory mammals and seabirds. We developed a mass balance food web model for the eastern Chukchi Sea to evaluate the trophic structure of this ecosystem and to compare food web properties of the Chukchi Sea to those of other high-latitude marine ecosystems. We compiled data on biomass levels, diet composition, demographic rates (production, consumption), and fishery removals, and used these data to construct an Ecopath trophic mass balance model. The majority of biomass was concentrated in benthic invertebrates and most of the mass flow above trophic level 2.0 was through these groups. We found that density estimates of most fish groups derived from trawl survey data using area-swept methods were insufficient to match the consumptive demands of predators, and that densities needed to be several-fold greater to meet modeled demand. We also used a set of system metrics derived from a common modeling framework to highlight differences in ecosystem structure between the eastern Chukchi Sea and other high-latitude systems. The extent of benthic dominance observed in the eastern Chukchi Sea was unique among the systems examined, both in terms of food web structure and associated mass flows between benthic and pelagic components. In relation to total biomass density, the eastern Chukchi Sea had low production when compared with the other systems, and this lower turnover rate suggests that recovery from disturbance might be slow.