• Fatty acid profiles of Alaskan Arctic forage fishes: evidence of regional and temporal variation

      Dissen, Julia; Hardy, Sarah; Horstmann-Dehn, Lara; Oliveira, Alexandra (2015-08)
      Fatty acids, the main components of lipids, are crucial for energy storage and other physiological functions in animals and plants. Dietary fatty acids are incorporated and conserved in consumer tissues in predictable patterns and can be analyzed in animal tissues to determine the composition of an individual's diet. This study measured the variation in fatty acid profiles of three abundant Arctic forage fish species, Arctic Cod (Boreogadus saida), Canadian Eelpout (Lycodes polaris), and Longear Eelpout (Lycodes seminudus) across multiple years (2010-2013) and geographic locations (Beaufort and Chukchi seas). These fishes are important prey items of marine mammals, sea birds, and predatory fishes, and as such they serve as a critical trophic step connecting lower trophic-level production to higher level predators. Analyzing forage fish fatty acid profiles across multiple years and geographic locations can provide insight into system-level trends in lipid transfer through the Arctic ecosystem. Fatty acid profiles differed among species, with Arctic Cod having higher concentrations of pelagic zooplankton indicator fatty acids, and Eelpout species containing higher concentrations of indicators for benthic prey. While the two Eelpout species displayed major overlap in fatty acid profiles, differences in individual fatty acids may represent niche separation between Canadian and Longear Eelpout in the Beaufort Sea. In addition to variation between species, fatty acid profiles also differed in Arctic Cod between the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and among collection years. High lipid content and energy-rich fatty acid classes observed in Chukchi Sea Arctic Cod relative to the Beaufort Sea Arctic Cod may indicate favorable feeding conditions in this region over the years sampled, and high energy density of Arctic Cod as prey. Despite the within-species variation observed, the results of this study suggest that Alaskan Arctic forage fish with different foraging ecology can be distinguished based on fatty acid profile, which could be useful in studies that use fatty acid data to characterize diets of top predators.