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Groundfish Assessment Program

Understanding the Life History and Ecology of Bering Sea Invertebrates – Focus on Neptunea

Figure 4. The Pribilof whelk, Neptunea pribiloffensis.

Habitat scientists are studying the life history and ecology of benthic invertebrates in the eastern Bering Sea (EBS) in order to better understand their role as habitat for commercially important species and to improve interpretation of population- and community-level changes due to fishing gear disturbances.

The community of clams, crabs, sponges, corals, snails, marine worms, and similar organisms are a living component of habitat. As a group, benthic invertebrates function as predators, prey, and competitors and provide shelter for other species. They also are useful indicators of the health and integrity of the ecosystem and are known to be an important factor affecting the distribution of managed species. Unfortunately, relatively little is known about their life histories and ecologies, let alone the complex linkages and dependencies that exist at the community and ecosystem levels. The available information for EBS species is generally sparse and frequently exists in unpublished reports. To address this need, we are assembling the existing information for individual species and summarizing it in a standard format that includes topics such as growth and development, sexual maturity, reproductive cycles, feeding and diet, mortality rates and causes, distribution and abundance, and anthropogenic interactions.

The first in a series of publications focuses on the four major species of snails in the genus Neptunea (Fig. 4). These snails are a major component of the benthic invertebrate community on the EBS continental shelf, and our research has demonstrated they are sensitive to bottom trawling. This synopsis summarizes studies of local populations as well as somewhat more extensive findings for Neptunea species in other geographic regions. Geographic distribution and abundance of the four species on the EBS shelf are represented with maps based on RACE bottom-trawl survey data for selected years from 1983 to 2010. Work is underway on a synopsis for the purple orange sea star (Asterias amurensis), an extremely abundant species in inshore areas that is also affected by bottom trawling.

By Keith Smith, Bob McConnaughey, and Claire Armistead





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