Advancing an Ecosystem Approach in the Gulf of Maine

Stalk-Eyed Views of the Gulf of Maine—Through a Nepheloid Layer Dimly

Peter A. Jumars


Abstract .—Because of partial recirculation and steep bottom slopes, the Gulf of Maine (GoM) contains steep environmental gradients in both space and time. I focus, in particular, on optical properties associated with both resources and risks. The GoM estuary-shelf systems differ from those whose fine sediments are trapped behind barrier bars; in the GoM, nepheloid layers prevail over a wide range of depths, and onshore-offshore turbidity gradients at a given water depth are also steep. Turbidity reduces predation risk. Three crustacean species that are major fish forages respond to the strong environmental gradients in resources and risks by migrating seasonally both horizontally and vertically. Northern shrimp (also known as pink shrimp) Pandalus borealis , sevenspine bay shrimp Crangon septemspinosa , and the most common mysid shrimp in the GoM, Neomysis americana , share both stalked eyes that appear capable of detecting polarized light and statocysts. This pair of features likely confers sun-compass navigational ability, facilitating use of multiple habitats. All three species converge on a shallow-water bloom at depths <100 m of the western GoM shelf in December–March, well before the basin-wide, climatological spring bloom in April. In addition to reaching abundant food resources, I propose that they are also using optical protection, quantified as the integral of the beam attenuation coefficient from the surface to the depth that they occupy during daylight. Spring immigration into, and fall emigration from, estuaries appear to be common in GoM sevenspine bay shrimp and N. americana , out of phase with their populations south of New England and with turbidity differences a likely cause. Migration studies that include measurements of turbidity are needed, however, to test the strength of the effect of optical protection on habitat use by all three species. Simultaneous sampling of estuaries and the adjacent shelf, together with trace-element tracer studies, would be very useful to resolve timing and extent of mass migrations, which likely are sensitive to turbidity change resulting from climate change. These migrations present special challenges to ecosystem-based management by using so many different habitats.