Journal of Animal Ecology
biologging, hunting behaviour, marlin, oceanic front, oxygen minimum zone, pelagic predator, sailfish
Pelagic predators must contend with low prey densities that are irregularly distributed and dynamic in space and time. Based on satellite imagery and telemetry data, many pelagic predators will concentrate horizontal movements on ephemeral surface fronts—gradients between water masses—because of enhanced local productivity and increased forage fish densities.
Vertical fronts (e.g. thermoclines, oxyclines) can be spatially and temporally persistent, and aggregate lower trophic level and diel vertically migrating organisms due to sharp changes in temperature, water density or available oxygen. Thus, vertical fronts represent a stable and potentially energy rich habitat feature for diving pelagic predators but remain little explored in their capacity to enhance foraging opportunities.
Here, we use a novel suite of high-resolution biologging data, including in situ derived oxygen saturation and video, to document how two top predators in the pelagic ecosystem exploit the vertical fronts created by the oxygen minimum zone of the eastern tropical Pacific.
Prey search behaviour was dependent on dive shape, and significantly increased near the thermocline and hypoxic boundary for blue marlin Makaira nigricans and sailfish Istiophorus platypterus, respectively. Further, we identify a behaviour not yet reported for pelagic predators, whereby the predator repeatedly dives below the thermocline and hypoxic boundary (and by extension, below the prey). We hypothesize this behaviour is used to ambush prey concentrated at the boundaries from below.
We describe how habitat fronts created by low oxygen environments can influence pelagic ecosystems, which will become increasingly important to understand in the context of global change and expanding oxygen minimum zones. We anticipate that our findings are shared among many pelagic predators where strong vertical fronts occur, and additional high-resolution tagging is warranted to confirm this.
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Logan, Ryan; Jeremy J. Vaudo; Brad Wetherbee; and Mahmood Shivji. 2023. "Patrolling the Border: Billfish Exploit the Hypoxic Boundary Created by the World's Largest Oxygen Minimum Zone." Journal of Animal Ecology 92, (8): 1658-1671. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.13940.