Ecological effects of regime shifts in the Bering Sea and eastern North Pacific Ocean


Andrew Trites, Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z4, Canada
Tel.: +1 604 822 8182
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Large-scale shifts occurred in climatic and oceanic conditions in 1925, 1947, 1977, 1989 and possibly 1998. These shifts affected the mix and abundance of suites of coexisting species during each period of relative environmental stability—from primary producers to apex predators. However, the 1989 regime shift was not a simple reversal of the 1977 shift. The regime shifts occurred abruptly and were neither random variations nor simple reversals to the previous conditions. Timing of these anomalous environmental events in the North Pacific Ocean appears to be linked to physical and biological responses in other oceanic regions of the world. Changes in the atmospheric pressure can alter wind patterns that affect oceanic circulation and physical properties such as salinity and depth of the thermocline. This, in turn, affects primary and secondary production. Data from the North Pacific indicate that regime shifts can have opposite effects on species living in different domains, or can affect similar species living within a single domain in opposite ways. Climatic forcing appears to indirectly affect fish and marine mammal populations through changes in the distribution and abundance of their predators and prey. Effects of regime shifts on marine ecosystems are also manifested faster at lower trophic levels. Natural variability in the productivity of fish stocks in association with regime shifts indicates that new approaches to managing fisheries should incorporate climatic as well as fisheries effects.