Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8455
Title: The impact of El NiƱo events on the pelagic food chain in the northern California Current
Author: Jennifer L. Fisher, William T. Peterson, Ryan R. Rykaczewski
Publication Year: 2015
Journal: Global Change Biology
Volume: 21
Issue: 12
Pages: 4401-4414
Keywords: ENSO,zooplankton,copepods,climate change,food web,trophic structure

The zooplankton of the northern California Current are typically characterized by an abundance of lipid-rich copepods that support rapid growth and survival of ecologically, commercially, and recreationally valued fish, birds, and mammals. Disruption of this food chain and reduced ecosystem productivity are often associated with climatic variability such as El Niño events. We examined the variability in timing, magnitude, and duration of positive temperature anomalies and changes in copepod species composition in the northern California Current in relation to ten tropical El Niño events. Measureable impacts on mesozooplankton of the northern California Current were observed during seven out of ten of these events. The occurrence of anomalously warm water and the response of the copepod community was rapid (lag of zero to two months) following the initiation of canonical Eastern Pacific events, but delayed (lag of two to eight months) following “Modoki” Central Pacific events. The variable lags in the timing of a physical and biological response led to impacts in the northern California Current peaking in winter during EP events and in the spring during CP events. The magnitude and duration of the temperature and copepod anomalies were strongly and positively related to the magnitude and duration of El Niño events, but were also sensitive to the phase of the lower-frequency Pacific Decadal Oscillation. When fisheries managers and biological oceanographers are faced with the prospect of a future El Niño event, prudent management and observation will require consideration of the background oceanographic conditions, the type of event, and both the magnitude and duration of the event when assessing the potential physical and biological impacts on the northern California Current.

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Theme: Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
Foci: Understand how climate influences ecosystem variability.