Emergent global biogeography of marine fish food webs

P. Daniël van Denderen*, Colleen M. Petrik, Charles A. Stock, Ken H. Andersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Aim: Understanding how fish food webs emerge from planktonic and benthic production that sustain them is an important challenge for predicting fisheries production under climate change and quantifying the role of fish in carbon and nutrient cycling. We examine if a trait-based fish community model using the fish traits of maximum body weight and vertical habitat strategy can meet this challenge by globally representing fish food web diversity.
Location: Global oceans
Time period: Predictions are representative of the early 1990s
Major taxa studied: Marine teleost fish
Method: We present a size- and trait-based fish community model that explicitly resolves the dependence of fish on pelagic and benthic energy pathways to globally predict fish food web biogeography. The emergent food web structures are compared with regionally-calibrated models in three different ecosystem types and used to estimate two fish ecosystem functions: potential fisheries production and benthic-pelagic coupling.
Results: Variations in pelagic-benthic energy pathways and seafloor depth drive the emergent biogeography of fish food webs from shelf systems to the open ocean, and across the global ocean. Most shelf regions have high benthic production, which favors demersal fish that feed on pelagic and benthic pathways. Continental slopes also show a coupling of benthic and pelagic pathways, sustained through vertically migrating and interacting mesopelagic and deep-sea demersal fish. Open ocean fish communities are primarily structured around the pelagic pathway. Global model results compare favorably with data-driven regional food web models, suggesting that maximum weight and vertical behavior can capture large-scale variations in food web structure.
Main conclusion: Mechanistically linking ocean productivity with upper trophic levels using a size- and trait-based fish community model results in spatial variations in food web structure. Energy pathways vary with ocean productivity and seabed depth, thereby shaping the dominant traits and fish communities across ocean biomes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Benthic-pelagic coupling
  • Energy chains
  • Fish
  • Mesopelagic
  • Size-based models
  • Trait-based ecology

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