10-Year Study Reveals Critical Habitats for Top Level Ocean Predators

sea lion photo

Photo by lowjumpingfrog via Flickr CC

In a major study some are calling the largest biologging study, 75 scientists have pulled together 10 years worth of data on the migration patterns of 23 of the ocean's major species, including blue whales, blue-fin tuna, sharks and albatross, and overlaid it with satellite data on temperature, salinity and chlorophyll fluctuations of the ocean. The result is the most comprehensive view to date of how top predators follow and find the biological hotspots of the sea as seasons shift. It could give us new insight on how changes such as climate and acidification may impact the iconic species of the ocean. Decade-Long Study Reveals Biodiversity Hotspots
The 10-year-long study was published in Nature this week, and the authors state, "Overexploitation and climate variability impact the abundance and distribution of top predators in ocean ecosystems. Improved understanding of ecological patterns, evolutionary constraints and ecosystem function is critical for preventing extinctions, loss of biodiversity and disruption of ecosystem services... We identify critical habitats across multinational boundaries and show that top predators exploit their environment in predictable ways, providing the foundation for spatial management of large marine ecosystems."

This level of understanding of how marine animals move around the ocean is a major boon for conservationists working on international agreements and plans for conservation in the open sea. The study includes Pacific bluefin tuna, salmon sharks, mako shars, northern elephant seals, and other iconic species that were tracked to reveal where the most biodiverse areas of the sea can be found during various parts of the year.

Predators Know Where To Go Every Year for Food
Earth Times reports, "It seems that predators across the species boundaries share an uncanny knack to sense where the rich-pickings are, and to home in on them unfailingly - across thousands of miles, year after year. One of the Pacific's real sweet spots for attracting predators is the California Current, which flows south along the US west coast. Like the North Pacific Transition Zone, found between Hawaii and Alaska, this zone of upwelling cool waters, loaded with plankton, is perfect for supporting vast plumes of krill."

Top level predators are vulnerable to many different stressors, including overfishing of their food sources, hunting by humans, changes in ocean temperature that affect the currents and food sources to pollution, and acidification. Knowing where the animals are moving and why helps researchers and conservationists come up with effective plans for protecting various species, and can understand the ways in which different countries need to work together for the greater good of the species that roam international waters.

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