|Abstract or Summary
- The Northern California Current (NCC) ecosystem exhibits extreme seasonal, interannual and interdecadal shifts in the abiotic environment and shifts in primary and higher production. This variability is also apparent in the spatial structure of the ecosystem with nearshore-shelf waters (<150 m isobath) being highly productive and having a different community structure relative to more offshore-slope (>150 m) waters. Very little is known of the trophic relationships between primary consumers and higher trophic levels within this system, and the potential influence of spatial gradients in productivity and community composition on trophic structure. This dissertation research covers several important aspects of trophic dynamics within the NCC ecosystem through the use of conventional dietary analysis and stable isotope analysis of multiple trophic levels. From June and August 2000 and 2002 cruises off the shelf-slope ecosystem from Northern California to central Oregon, I collected and analyzed the diets from 25 species of pelagic nekton (Chapter 2). Trophic groups were formed from agglomerative hierarchical cluster analysis of prey contribution to nekton diet, with cluster groups described by indicator species analysis. Seasonal, interannual and interdecadal comparisons in diet were examined for some nekton species. Results from general description of diets and cluster analysis showed clustering based primarily on prey of copepods, euphausiids, decapod larvae and larval-juvenile fishes, representing lower (copepods), middle (euphausiids and decapod larvae) and upper (larval-juvenile fishes) trophic groups, but that many species exhibited omnivory by feeding on prey several levels down the food web. Results from carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis (Chapter 3) support the general trophic structure observed through dietary analysis; that the copepod-euphausiid-larval/juvenile fish structure in the diets were generally observed in relative trophic position using δ15N. Carbon stable isotopes displayed signatures more indicative of onshore-offshore distribution of species (Chapter 4) with nearshore species of nekton and zooplankton being enriched in 13C relative to offshore. This provided an effective trophically-based delineation of the NCC pelagic food web. Although stable isotopes are effective tools for measuring relative trophic position and source production, the duration of time that stable isotopes are a measure of past trophic hsitory is not well known. To examine this, I conducted a laboratory-controlled experiment to examine the tissue-specific response of isotope δ15N to changes in isotopic signature of diet in an adult marine fish (Pacific herring, Clupea pallasi)(Chapter 5). To test which animal tissue was the most accurate measure of isotope shift I examined multiple tissues (eye, heart, liver, blood, and white muscle) and the importance of growth and metabolism in this shift. This study showed that (i) isotopic response of individual tissues following an isotopic shift in diet varied in both rate of change and fractionation level, (ii) most of this isotopic shift is due to growth, and (iii) white muscle and liver tissue appeared the most responsive to isotopic shift in diet, reaching isotopic equilibrium with diet in a matter of months (not years). The culmination of this dissertation in the context of trophic controls on the NCC ecosystem, and how they are different from other EBC systems are discussed in Chapter 6.