Polar Biology

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 321–338 | Cite as

The role of notothenioid fish in the food web of the Ross Sea shelf waters: a review

Review

Abstract

The Ross Sea, a large, high-latitude (72–78°S) embayment of the Antarctic continental shelf, averages 500 m deep, with troughs to 1,200 m and the shelf break at 700 m. It is covered by pack ice for 9 months of the year. The fish fauna of about 80 species includes primarily 4 families and 53 species of the endemic perciform suborder Notothenioidei. This review focuses on the diet and role in the food web of notothenioids and top-level bird and mammal predators, and also includes new information on the diets of artedidraconids and bathydraconids. Although principally a benthic group, notothenioids have diversified to form an adaptive radiation that includes pelagic and semipelagic species. In the southern Ross Sea, notothenioids dominate the fish fauna at levels of abundance and biomass >90% and are, therefore, inordinately important in the food web. Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and mesopelagic fishes are virtually absent from the shelf waters of the Ross Sea. Of the four notothenioid families, nototheniids show the most ecological and dietary diversification, with pelagic, cryopelagic, epibenthic and benthic species. Neutrally buoyant Pleuragramma antarcticum constitutes >90% of both the abundance and biomass of the midwater fish fauna. Most benthic nototheniids are opportunistic and feed on seasonally or locally abundant zooplanktonic prey. Artedidraconids are benthic sit-and-wait predators. Larger bathydraconids are benthic predators on fish while smaller species feed mainly on benthic crustaceans. Channichthyids are less dependent on the bottom for food than other notothenioids. Some species combine benthic and pelagic life styles; others are predominantly pelagic and all consume euphausiids and/or fish. South polar skuas, Antarctic petrels, Adélie and emperor penguins, Weddell seals and minke and killer whales are the higher vertebrate components of the food web, and all prey on notothenioids to some extent. Based on the frequency of occurrence of prey items in the stomachs of fish, bird and mammal predators, P. antarcticum and ice krill E. crystallorophias are the key species in the food web of the Ross Sea. P. antarcticum is a component of the diet of at least 11 species of nototheniid, bathydraconid and channichthyid fish and, at frequencies of occurrence from 71 to 100%, is especially important for Dissostichus mawsoni, Gvozdarus svetovidovi and some channichthyids. At least 16 species of notothenioids serve as prey for bird and mammal predators, but P. antarcticum is the most important and is a major component of the diet of south polar skua, Adélie and emperor penguins and Weddell seals, at frequencies of occurrence from 26 to 100%. E. crystallorophias is consumed by some nototheniid and channichthyid fish and can be of importance in the diet of emperor and Adélie penguins, although in the latter case, this is dependent on location and time of year.

Unlike the linear phytoplankton→E. superba→consumers of the E. superba food chain hypothesized for much of the Southern Ocean, the food web of the Ross Sea shelf is non-linear, with complex prey-predator interactions. Notothenioid fish play a key role: as predators, they occupy most of the trophic niches available in the ecosystem, relying on benthic, zooplanktonic and nektonic organisms; as prey, they are important food resources for each other and for most top predators living and foraging on the shelf. They also constitute the major link between lower (invertebrates) and higher (birds and mammals) levels of the food web. This is especially true for P. antarcticum. Along with E. crystallorophias, its ecological role in the Ross Sea is equivalent to that of myctophids and E. superba elsewhere in the Southern Ocean.

Keywords

Killer Whale Antarctic Krill Minke Whale Weddell Seal Emperor Penguin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgements

This study was financially supported by the PNRA (Italian National Antarctic Research Program). J.T.E. was supported by National Science Foundation grant OPP 94-16870 and an Ohio University Presidential Research Scholar Award.

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© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Istituto di Ricerche sulla Pesca MarittimaCNRAnconaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Osteopathic MedicineOhio UniversityAthensUSA
  3. 3.ICRAMIstituto Centrale per la Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica Applicata al MareRomeItaly

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