Nutritional Ecology of Climate Change

Tracking and projecting predator-prey interactions in a warming Gulf.

The Gulf of Maine is rapidly warming, and many marine species are shifting northward or to deeper waters as temperatures increase. However, each species moves at a different rate, resulting in changes in the spatial overlap between species. For this project, we will investigate whether predator-prey interactions have already changed along the Northeast Shelf as a result of differential responses to warming. We will also project future changes in predator-prey relationships, diet quality, and growth potential.

Project Goals:

  • Quantify rates of spatial distribution shifts for Northwest Atlantic marine species as ocean waters have warmed and evaluate how differential rates are related to biological traits.
  • Determine whether Northwest Atlantic fish species have experienced changes in diet composition and energetic content over the past several decades and whether these changes align with species distribution shifts.
  • Project how species’ diets and their energetic quality may change in the future as ocean temperatures continue to warm.
  • Incorporate results into educational programs at GMRI and the Seacoast Science Center.

Climate change and warming oceans are affecting marine ecosystems in a variety of ways. Many studies have focused on temperature effects on biological processes (such as growth or metabolism) or populations (such as changes in productivity or distribution). While we know that species respond to warming in different ways and at different rates, few studies have focused on understanding how unique species responses may affect community-level interactions. In this project, we examine how species traits, distributional responses, and feeding flexibility mediate or exacerbate the effects of warming at population, community, and ecosystem scales.

The Northwest Atlantic Shelf is one of the most rapidly warming regions of the world’s oceans, and it is a prime system for examining how climate-driven species distribution shifts affect predator-prey interactions, food web structure, and growth potential. This project will use long-term fish surveys and diet datasets to quantify shifts in spatial distributions and prey consumption in response to warming ocean waters in the region. From these retrospective analyses, projections of predator-prey interactions will be made based on expected future warming trends. These projections will enable us to identify novel interactions and dietary effects for important predatory fishes. Moreover, they will provide a way of investigating how changes in species interactions may affect the marine food web and ecosystem.

Results from the project will help support ecosystem-based fisheries management as warming continues to shape the Northwest Atlantic marine ecosystem. In addition, information from the project will be incorporated into GMRI’s LabVenture program, an education program at the Seacoast Science Center, and teacher professional development program opportunities.

Project Team

Project Sponsor

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2023536.