Ecosystem size structure response to 21st century climate projection: large fish abundance decreases in the central North Pacific and increases in the California Current


Correspondence: Phoebe A. Woodworth-Jefcoats, tel. +1 808 983 2962, fax +1 808 983 2902, e-mail:


Output from an earth system model is paired with a size-based food web model to investigate the effects of climate change on the abundance of large fish over the 21st century. The earth system model, forced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special report on emission scenario A2, combines a coupled climate model with a biogeochemical model including major nutrients, three phytoplankton functional groups, and zooplankton grazing. The size-based food web model includes linkages between two size-structured pelagic communities: primary producers and consumers. Our investigation focuses on seven sites in the North Pacific, each highlighting a specific aspect of projected climate change, and includes top-down ecosystem depletion through fishing. We project declines in large fish abundance ranging from 0 to 75.8% in the central North Pacific and increases of up to 43.0% in the California Current (CC) region over the 21st century in response to change in phytoplankton size structure and direct physiological effects. We find that fish abundance is especially sensitive to projected changes in large phytoplankton density and our model projects changes in the abundance of large fish being of the same order of magnitude as changes in the abundance of large phytoplankton. Thus, studies that address only climate-induced impacts to primary production without including changes to phytoplankton size structure may not adequately project ecosystem responses.