Climate change in the southeastern Bering Sea: impacts on pollock stocks and implications for the oscillating control hypothesis




Concern about impacts of climate change in the Bering Sea prompted several research programs to elucidate mechanistic links between climate and ecosystem responses. Following a detailed literature review, Hunt et al. (2011) (Deep-Sea Res. II, 49, 2002, 5821) developed a conceptual framework, the Oscillating Control Hypothesis (OCH), linking climate-related changes in physical oceanographic conditions to stock recruitment using walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) as a model. The OCH conceptual model treats zooplankton as a single box, with reduced zooplankton production during cold conditions, producing bottom-up control of apex predators and elevated zooplankton production during warm periods leading to top-down control by apex predators. A recent warming trend followed by rapid cooling on the Bering Sea shelf permitted testing of the OCH. During warm years (2003–06), euphausiid and Calanus marshallae populations declined, post-larval pollock diets shifted from a mixture of large zooplankton and small copepods to almost exclusively small copepods, and juvenile pollock dominated the diets of large predators. With cooling from 2006–09, populations of large zooplankton increased, post-larval pollock consumed greater proportions of C. marshallae and other large zooplankton, and juvenile pollock virtually disappeared from the diets of large pollock and salmon. These shifts in energy flow were accompanied by large declines in pollock stocks attributed to poor recruitment between 2001 and 2005. Observations presented here indicate the need for revision of the OCH to account for shifts in energy flow through differing food-web pathways due to warming and cooling on the southeastern Bering Sea shelf.