Assessing the trophic impacts of marine mammals: From metabolism to food web indices

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Abstract

Marine mammals are an important part of ecosystems, and their trophic role and potential impact have been increasingly studied. One key question is how these large animals interact with fisheries or compete for similar resources. Consequently, some models once used only for fisheries management are now including pinnipeds and cetaceans. However, fish and marine mammals do not share the same ecology and bioenergetics, and complex ecosystem models may not be the best way to assess the impact of pinnipeds or cetaceans in food webs. Indeed, simpler methods based on thermodynamics might give us reasonable answers with limited amounts of data. Here, we present an assessment of two different approaches to assess the trophic role of marine mammals in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (Canada): mixed trophic impacts (MTI) based on ecosystem modeling and surface index (SI) impact based on bioenergetics. Our results show that while modeling represents a good way of getting a holistic view of the role of marine mammals in ecosystems, trophic impact estimates based on fundamental thermodynamics principles can also give us answers requiring less data. The body surface area approach presented here might provide a practical tool for ecologists, who are not necessarily ecosystem modelers, to study this issue.

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