Impacts of rising sea temperatures on krill increase risks for predators in the Scotia Sea
Climate change is a threat to marine ecosystems and the services they provide, and reducing fishing pressure is one option for mitigating the overall consequences for marine biota. We used a minimally realistic ecosystem model to examine how projected effects of ocean warming on the growth of Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, might affect populations of krill and dependent predators (whales, penguins, seals, and fish) in the Scotia Sea. We also investigated the potential to mitigate depletion risk for predators by curtailing krill fishing at different points in the 21st century. The projected effects of ocean warming on krill biomass were strongest in the northern Scotia Sea, with a ≥40% decline in the mass of individual krill. Projections also suggest a 25% chance that krill biomass will fall below an established depletion threshold (75% of its unimpacted level), with consequent risks for some predator populations, especially penguins. Average penguin abundance declined by up to 30% of its unimpacted level, with up to a 50% chance of falling below the depletion threshold. Simulated krill fishing at currently permitted harvest rates further increased risks for depletion, and stopping fishing offset the increased risks associated with ocean warming in our model to some extent. These results varied by location and species group. Risk reductions at smaller spatial scales also differed from those at the regional level, which suggests that some predator populations may be more vulnerable than others to future changes in krill biomass. However, impacts on predators did not always map directly to those for krill. Our findings indicate the importance of identifying vulnerable marine populations and targeting protection measures at appropriate spatial scales, and the potential for spatially-structured management to avoid aggravating risks associated with rising ocean temperatures. This may help balance tradeoffs among marine ecosystem services in an uncertain future.
Authors: Klein, Emily S., Hill, Simeon L., Hinke, Jefferson T., Phillips, Tony, Watters, George M.