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Netherlands Polar Data Center

Publication - Strong linkage of polar cod (Boreogadus saida) to sea ice algae-produced carbon: Evidence from stomach content, fatty acid and stable isotope analyses

Abstract

The polar cod (Boreogadus saida) is considered an ecological key species, because it reaches high stock biomasses and constitutes an important carbon source for seabirds and marine mammals in high-Arctic ecosystems. Young polar cod (1–2 years) are often associated with the underside of sea ice. To evaluate the impact of changing Arctic sea ice habitats on polar cod, we examined the diet composition and quantified the contribution of ice algae-produced carbon (αIce) to the carbon budget of polar cod. Young polar cod were sampled in the ice-water interface layer in the central Arctic Ocean during late summer 2012. Diets and carbon sources of these fish were examined using 4 approaches: (1) stomach content analysis, (2) fatty acid (FA) analysis, (3) bulk nitrogen and carbon stable isotope analysis (BSIA) and (4) compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) of FAs. The ice-associated (sympagic) amphipod Apherusa glacialis dominated the stomach contents by mass, indicating a high importance of sympagic fauna in young polar cod diets. The biomass of food measured in stomachs implied constant feeding at daily rates of ∼1.2% body mass per fish, indicating the potential for positive growth. FA profiles of polar cod indicated that diatoms were the primary carbon source, indirectly obtained via amphipods and copepods. The αIce using bulk isotope data from muscle was estimated to be >90%. In comparison, αIce based on CSIA ranged from 34 to 65%, with the highest estimates from muscle and the lowest from liver tissue. Overall, our results indicate a strong dependency of polar cod on ice-algae produced carbon. This suggests that young polar cod may be particularly vulnerable to changes in the distribution and structure of sea ice habitats. Due to the ecological key role of polar cod, changes at the base of the sea ice-associated food web are likely to affect the higher trophic levels of high-Arctic ecosystems.

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