Russian Journal of Marine Biology

, Volume 38, Issue 7, pp 465-473

First online:

Is the mass emergence of Themisto libellula in the northern Bering Sea an invasion or a bloom?

  • A. F. VolkovAffiliated withPacific Research Fisheries Center (TINRO Center) Email author 

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The mass occurrence of the large hyperiid Themisto libellula was recorded in both the western and the eastern Bering Sea within 2007–2011. Those were the years of a relatively long 6-year period of cold, which was caused mainly by the inflow of cold waters from the north; this is confirmed by the distribution of bottom and surface temperatures and also by the ice-cover values. This hyperiid became dominant in the diet of salmon, walleye pollock, herring, and several other nekton fish species. T. libellula periodically spreads southward with cold northern waters, finding favorable conditions in “new” areas. Being a rapidly growing species with a short life cycle, within 1 or 2 years it reaches a high abundance, which then gradually declines and remains at a mean or low level, as usually occurs with species that were introduced into a new habitat. After the environmental conditions deteriorate, as a “warm” period arrives with changes in the general circulation and a growing inflow of warmed Pacific waters, the southern boundary of the species range moves back far northward and it completely disappears in the areas where it prevailed in the plankton and was a main forage item in the diet of many fish species. Taking into account the durations of warm and cold periods from 1980 until 2010, an event like this in the Bering Sea can be expected within 1 or 2 years. In the eastern Bering Sea, the abundance and dominance of a number of zooplankton species may vary simultaneously. This effect is more pronounced in T. libellula and for this reason the species is considered as a biological indicator of the described climatic changes in the Bering Sea.


hyperiid zooplankton biomass cold period warm period western Bering Sea eastern Bering Sea salmon feeding