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Ecology. 2006 Aug;87(8):2080-93.

Competition among penguins and cetaceans reveals trophic cascades in the western Ross Sea, Antarctica.

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H. T. Harvey and Associates, 3150 Almaden Expressway, Suite 145, San Jose, California 95118, USA.


An apparent trophic cascade that appears during summer in the western Ross Sea, Antarctica, explains why the Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum) there becomes cannibalistic; its principal prey, crystal krill (Euphausia crystallorophias) becomes scarce; and the diatom community is minimally grazed compared to adjacent areas. The krill is the major grazer of diatoms. On the basis of fieldwork at Ross Island, we suggest that the cascade results from foraging by unusually numerous Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae), minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), and fish-eating killer whales (Orcinus orca). These species and other top predators apparently deplete the krill and silverfish. In drawing our conclusions, we were aided by two "natural experiments." In one "experiment," large, grounded icebergs altered the seasonal pattern of change in regional sea-ice cover, but not the seasonal change in penguin diet and foraging behavior that was also detected during the pre-iceberg era. In the other "experiment," a short-term polynya (opening in the ice) brought penguins and whales together in a confined area, this time altering both penguin diet and foraging behavior. We conclude that the foraging of penguins and whales, and not a formerly hypothesized seasonal decrease in sea-ice cover, explains (1) the annual switch in the penguins' prey from krill to silverfish, (2) the subsequent lengthening of penguin foraging trips, and (3) a marked decline of cetaceans in the area later in the season. Reduction in the middle-trophic-level prey is expressed in the relaxed grazing pressure on phytoplankton.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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