Spatial and temporal patterns in summer ichthyoplankton assemblages on the eastern Bering Sea shelf 1996–2007



Larval and early juvenile fishes were sampled from the eastern Bering Sea (EBS) shelf from 2001 to 2005, and in 2007. Data from these collections were used to examine spatial and temporal patterns in species assemblage structure and abundance. The years 2001–2005 were unusual because the EBS water temperature was ‘warm’ compared with the long-term mean temperature. In contrast, 2007 was a ‘cold’ year. The abundance of the five most numerous taxa at 12 stations common to all years sampled (1996–2005, 2007) were significantly different among years. Larval and early juvenile stage Theragra chalcogramma (walleye pollock), a commercially important gadid, were by far the most abundant fish in all years. Bottom depth alone best explained assemblage structure in most years, but in others, bottom depth and water column temperature combined and percent sea-ice coverage were most important. Abundance of T. chalcogramma larvae increases with water column temperature until 5°C and then becomes level. Higher abundances of Gadus macrocephalus (Pacific cod) larvae occur in years with the greatest percent sea-ice cover as indicated by GAM analysis. Larvae of Lepidopsetta polyxystra (northern rock sole) increase in abundance with increasing maximum wind speed, but decrease at a later date during the last winter storm. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that oceanographic conditions, specifically water temperature and sea-ice coverage, affect the spatial and temporal pattern of larval abundances. In general, ichthyoplankton species assemblages can be important early indicators of environmental change in the Bering Sea and potentially other subarctic seas as well.