There is growing evidence that climate and anthropogenic influences on marine ecosystems are largely manifested by changes in species spatial dynamics. However, less is known about how shifts in species distributions might alter predatorprey overlap and the dynamics of prey populations. We developed a general approach to quantify species spatial overlap and identify the biotic and abiotic variables that dictate the strength of overlap. We used this method to test the hypothesis that population abundance and temperature have a synergistic effect on the spatial overlap of arrowtooth flounder (predator) and juvenile Alaska walleye pollock (prey, age-1) in the eastern Bering Sea. Our analyses indicate that (1) flounder abundance and temperature are key variables dictating the strength of flounder and pollock overlap, (2) changes in the magnitude of overlap may be largely driven by density-dependent habitat selection of flounder, and (3) species overlap is negatively correlated to juvenile pollock recruitment when flounder biomass is high. Overall, our findings suggest that continued increases in flounder abundance coupled with the predicted long-term warming of ocean temperatures could have important implications for the predator-prey dynamics of arrowtooth flounder and juvenile pollock. The approach used in this study is valuable for identifying potential consequences of climate variability and exploitation on species spatial dynamics and interactions in many marine ecosystems.
Copyright: 2013 Hunsicker et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited