Characterizing local biological hotspots in the Gulf of Maine using remote sensing data
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Researchers increasingly advocate the use of ecosystem-based management (EBM) for managing complex marine ecosystems. This approach requires managers to focus on processes and cross-scale interactions, rather than individual components. However, they often lack appropriate tools and data sources to pursue this change in management approach. One method that has been proposed to understand the ecological complexity inherent in marine ecosystems is the study of biological hotspots. Biological hotspots are locations where organisms from different trophic levels aggregate to feed on abundant supplies, and they are considered a first step toward understanding the processes driving spatial and temporal heterogeneity in marine systems. Biological hotspots are supported by phytoplankton aggregations, which are characterized by high spatial and temporal variability. As a result, methods developed to locate biological hotspots in relatively stable terrestrial systems are not well suited for more dynamic marine ecosystems. The main objective of this thesis is thus to identify and characterize local-scale biological hotspots in the western side of the Gulf of Maine. The first chapter describes a new methodological framework with the steps needed to locate these types of hotspots in marine ecosystems using remote sensing datasets. Then, in the second chapter these hotspots are characterized using a novel metric that uses time series information and spatial statistics to account for both the temporal variability and spatial structure of these marine aggregations. This metric redefines biological hotspots as areas with a high probability of exhibiting positive anomalies of productivity compared to the expected regional seasonal pattern. Finally, the third chapter compares the resulting biological hotspots to fishery-dependent abundance indices of surface and benthic predators to determine the effect of the location and magnitude of phytoplankton aggregations on the rest of the ecosystem. Analyses indicate that the spatial scale and magnitude of biological hotspots in the Gulf of Maine depend on the location and time of the year. Results also show that these hotspots change over time in response to both short-term oceanographic processes and long-term climatic cycles. Finally, the new metric presented here facilitates the spatial comparison between different trophic levels, thus allowing interdisciplinary ecosystem-wide studies.