Evidence for seasonal cycles in deep-sea fish abundances: A great migration in the deep SE Atlantic?

Last modified: 
April 21, 2020 - 6:24pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2020
Date published: 04/2020
Authors: Rosanna Milligan, Marian Scott, Daniel Jones, Brian Bett, Alan Jamieson, Robert O’Brien, Sofia Costa, Gilbert Rowe, Henry Ruhl, Ken Smith, Philippe de Susanne, Michael Vardaro, David Bailey
Journal title: Journal of Animal Ecology
  1. Animal migrations are of global ecological significance, providing mechanisms for the transport of nutrients and energy between distant locations. In much of the deep sea (>200 m water depth), the export of nutrients from the surface ocean provides a crucial but seasonally variable energy source to seafloor ecosystems. Seasonal faunal migrations have been hypothesized to occur on the deep seafloor as a result, but have not been documented.
  2. Here, we analyse a 7.5‐year record of photographic data from the Deep‐ocean Environmental Long‐term Observatory Systems seafloor observatories to determine whether there was evidence of seasonal (intra‐annual) migratory behaviours in a deep‐sea fish assemblage on the West African margin and, if so, identify potential cues for the behaviour.
  3. Our findings demonstrate a correlation between intra‐annual changes in demersal fish abundance at 1,400 m depth and satellite‐derived estimates of primary production off the coast of Angola. Highest fish abundances were observed in late November with a smaller peak in June, occurring approximately 4 months after corresponding peaks in primary production.
  4. Observed changes in fish abundance occurred too rapidly to be explained by recruitment or mortality, and must therefore have a behavioural driver. Given the recurrent patterns observed, and the established importance of bottom‐up trophic structuring in deep‐sea ecosystems, we hypothesize that a large fraction of the fish assemblage may conduct seasonal migrations in this region, and propose seasonal variability in surface ocean primary production as a plausible cause. Such trophic control could lead to changes in the abundance of fishes across the seafloor by affecting secondary production of prey species and/or carrion availability for example.
  5. In summary, we present the first evidence for seasonally recurring patterns in deep‐sea demersal fish abundances over a 7‐year period, and demonstrate a previously unobserved level of dynamism in the deep sea, potentially mirroring the great migrations so well characterized in terrestrial systems.
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