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Feature: Food Web Modeling of the Aleutain Archipelago

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Effects of Space and Scale in the Food Web Structure of the Aleutian Archipelago

abstraction of aleutian food web
An abstract network representation of the Aleutian Islands food web.

One of the challenges in fisheries management as it moves from a single-species to an ecosystem approach, is to meet the ecological and management needs of fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and humans, all of which operate over widely different spatial scales. This relatively new approach to fisheries management involves developing and fine-tuning predictive models that incorporate complex food web structures with the goal of ecosystem sustainability.

A food web is a system of predator/prey relationships by which energy is passed through the parts of the system. The study of changes in the structure or function of food webs over time and space helps in our understanding of critical relationships within an ecosystem. Building successful ecosystem models requires understanding changes in the food web structure of an ecosystem depending on location. Large-scale food web models in fisheries management can adequately portray differences across ecosystems and their main features. However, large-scale food web models may not accurately represent local areas within ecosystems or those areas that comprise smaller portions of the ecosystem.

With support from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Resource Ecology and Ecosystems Modeling Program, we conducted a study of the effects of space and scale in the food web structure of the Aleutian Archipelago, one of the most productive fishing grounds in the nation. Our study used two ecosystem modeling approaches: 1) a large-scale food web model based on the Aleutian Islands management region, which geographically includes the central and western (U.S.) Aleutian Islands only; and 2) a series of 13 simplified standardized contiguous food web models for each 2-longitudinal degree block covering the U.S. portion of the entire eastern, central, and western Aleutian Islands.

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