Arctic marine ecosystem, Ecological niche metrics, Marine mammal community, Niche partitioning, Trophic gradient, Trophic sources
The Arctic is warming rapidly, with concomitant sea ice losses and ecosystem changes. The animals most vulnerable to Arctic food web changes are long-lived and slow-growing such as marine mammals, which may not be able to adapt rapidly enough to respond to changes in their resource bases. To determine the current extent and sources of these resource bases, we examined isotopic and trophic niches for marine mammals in the European Arctic using skin carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ 15N) stable isotope (SI) compositions from 10 species: blue, fin, humpback, minke, sperm and white whales, bearded and ringed seals, walruses and polar bears, and dietary fatty acids (FAs) in polar bears, walruses and most of the whale species listed here. SI values showed clear species separation by trophic behaviour and carbon sources. Bearded seals, walruses and white whales had the smallest isotopic niches; these species are all resident High Arctic species and are likely to be particularly vulnerable to changes in Arctic ecosystems. We found clear separation between FA groupings driven by pelagic, benthic and planktonic/algal sources: pelagic FAs in all whales, benthic FAs in walruses, and copepod/algae/dinoflagellate FAs in polar bears, with some polar bear compositions approaching those of the whales and walruses. There is strong niche partitioning between study species with minimal functional redundancy, which could impact Arctic ecosystem structure and connectivity if populations of these large nutrient vectors are reduced or lost.
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MacKenzie, K. M.; Lydersen, C.; Haug, T.; Routti, H.; Aars, J.; Andvik, C. M.; Borgå, K.; Fisk, A. T.; Meier, S.; Biuw, M.; Lowther, A. D.; Lindstrøm, U.; and Kovacs, K. M.. (2022). Niches of marine mammals in the European Arctic. Ecological Indicators, 136.