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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A fully coupled ecosystem model to predict the foraging ecology of apex predators in the California Current

  • Author(s): Fiechter, J
  • Huckstadt, LA
  • Rose, KA
  • Costa, DP
  • et al.

Published Web Location

© 2016 Inter-Research. Results from a fully coupled end-to-end ecosystem model for the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem are used to describe the impact of environmental variability and prey availability on the foraging ecology of its most abundant apex predator, the California sea lion Zalophus californianus. The ecosystem model consists of a biogeochemical submodel embedded in a regional ocean circulation submodel, both coupled with a multi-species individual-based submodel for forage fish (sardine and anchovy) and California sea lions. Sardine and anchovy are explicitly represented in the model as they are commonly found in the diet of sea lions and exhibit significant interannual and decadal variability in population abundances that reflect variations in their environment and lower trophic level prey. Output from a 20 yr run (1989-2008) of the model demonstrates how different physical and biological processes control habitat utilization and foraging success of California sea lions on interannual time scales, with the dominant modes of variability linked to sardine abundance and coastal upwelling intensity. The results also illustrate how variability in environmental conditions, forage fish distribution, and prey assemblage affect sea lion feeding success. While specifically focusing on the foraging ecology of sea lions, the modeling framework has the ability to provide a more complete understanding of the physical and biological mechanisms impacting trophic interactions in the California Current, or other regions where similar fully coupled ecosystem models may be implemented.

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