• Long-term shifts in community structure, growth, and relative abundance of nearshore Arctic fishes: a response to changing environmental conditions

      Priest, Justin T.; Sutton, Trent M.; Mueter, Franz J.; Raborn, Scott W. (2020-08)
      Environmental conditions influence the presence, species composition, abundance, and growth of fish species in the nearshore Arctic ecosystem. With ongoing shifts in Arctic conditions due to climate change, how fish communities and individual species respond to such changes to environmental variability more broadly is unknown. This study analyzed catch and length data from a long-term fish monitoring project near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 2001-2018, to quantify the effects of environmental variables on the overall fish community and on the juveniles of two important whitefishes, Arctic Cisco Coregonus autumnalis and Broad Whitefish Coregonus nasus. Abundance data (n = 1.78 million fish) from daily sampling (July-August) at four stationary sampling locations showed distinct shifts in fish community metrics. Since 2001, annual species richness has significantly increased by one species per decade while water temperature warmed by over 1.4°C. The species composition based on biweekly catch data has significantly changed across years, with distinct variations among sample locations and throughout the season. Species composition was significantly affected by both salinity and water temperature. The effects of environmental conditions on growth showed that water temperature was positively and linearly associated with increases in growth for juvenile whitefish, while salinity negatively affected growth of age-0 Arctic Cisco. Changes in the abundance of juvenile whitefishes were related to both water temperature and salinity. Results from all analyses suggest that species positively associated with observed warming in the aquatic environment are generalist species such as Broad Whitefish. This study concluded that continued climate change, and especially Arctic warming, will likely increase growth, change the species composition, and alter abundance in the Arctic nearshore ecosystem. These changes will have impacts on subsistence harvests and on upper trophic level species that prey on nearshore fishes.