Spatial patterns, environmental correlates, and potential seasonal migration triangle of polar cod (Boreogadus saida) distribution in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas

Forster, C. E., B. L. Norcross, F. J. Mueter, E. A. Logerwell, A. C. Seitz. 2020. Spatial patterns, environmental correlates, and potential seasonal migration triangle of polar cod (Boreogadus saida) distribution in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Polar Biology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-020-02631-4

Abstract

Polar cod (Boreogadus saida) is a key forage fish in the Arctic marine ecosystem and provides an energetic link between lower and upper trophic levels. Despite its ecological importance, spatially explicit studies synthesizing polar cod distributions across research efforts have not previously been conducted in its Pacific range. We used spatial generalized additive models to map the distribution of polar cod by size class and relative to environmental variables. We compiled demersal trawl data from 21 cruises conducted during 2004–2017 in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and investigated size-specific patterns in distribution to infer movement ecology of polar cod as it develops from juvenile to adult life stages. High abundances of juvenile polar cod (≤ 70 mm) in the northeastern Chukchi Sea and western Beaufort Sea were separated from another region of high abundance in the eastern Beaufort Sea, near the US and Canadian border, suggesting possible population structure in the Pacific Arctic. Relating environmental correlates to polar cod abundance demonstrated that temperature and salinity were related to juvenile distribution patterns, while depth was the primary correlate of adult distribution. A comparison of seasonal 2017 abundances of polar cod in the southern Chukchi Sea found low demersal abundance in the spring when compared to the summer. Seasonal differences in polar cod abundance suggest that polar cod migration may follow a classical ‘migration triangle’ route between nursery grounds as juveniles, feeding grounds as subadults, and spawning grounds as adults, in relation to ice cover and seasonal production in the Chukchi Sea.

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