International megabenthic long-term monitoring of a changing arctic ecosystem: Baseline results
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionProgress in Oceanography. 2022, 200 . 10.1016/j.pocean.2021.102712
The sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic ecosystem is on the agenda globally. The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals call for conserving at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas globally. Management tools to achieve this goal include marine protected areas (MPAs) and “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) of structural megabenthic organisms (e.g. corals, sea pens, sponges, anemones, etc.). But large areas of the ocean are lacking information about seabed communities. Here we show that this data gap can potentially be filled by collecting data on megabenthic organisms that are “bycatch” (not the target species) on government research vessels monitoring commercial fish and shellfish. For this paper, several Arctic and sub-arctic nations contributed megabenthos data from a total of 12.569 fish assessment trawls and associated bottom water temperature data. The latter outline areas of warm sub-Arctic inflow versus colder Arctic waters, which we align with temperature affinities of community. We also found that maximum levels of shared taxa were higher between Atlantic and Eurasian Arctic Seas than with Pacific Arctic Seas. Areas of high standardized species richness generally, but not everywhere, coincided with areas of high standardized biomass and/or high current velocity and in transition zones between water masses. We did not find that standardized taxon richness declined with latitude (from 60 to 81°N) as has been previously hypothesized. High biomass was generally associated with Arctic outflow shelves and/ or (within-region) colder water masses. We identify areas with high proportions of sessile and upright taxa that may be susceptible to damage by bottom trawl gear, taxa with calcareous skeletons that may be susceptible to ocean acidification, and 'cold-water' taxa that may be most vulnerable to ocean warming. Our results demonstrate the feasibility and value of international collaboration and cooperation in understanding large-scale patterns of Arctic megabenthic communities and providing scientific advice for management of human activities in the global Arctic ecosystem.