Influences of temperature, predators, and competitors on polar cod (Boreogadus saida) at the southern margin of their distribution

  • Jennifer M. MarshEmail author
  • Franz J. Mueter
Original Paper


Polar cod (Boreogadus saida) is the most abundant and ubiquitous fish species throughout the Arctic Ocean. As such, they serve an important ecosystem role linking upper and lower trophic levels and transferring energy between the benthic and pelagic realms. Our objective is to explore what limits the southern distribution of polar cod in Pacific and Atlantic sectors by examining time series of survey and oceanographic data. We quantify the variability in the southern extent of the polar cod distribution in the Bering and Labrador Seas, and determine mechanisms (bottom temperature and potential predators: Pacific cod Gadus macrocephalus, Atlantic cod Gadus morhua, and Greenland halibut Reinhardtius hippoglossoides and competitors: capelin Mallotus villosus and walleye pollock Gadus chalcogrammus) driving the variability. When temperatures were lower, polar cod occupied larger areas and had higher abundances in both regions, suggesting that as temperatures increase with climate warming the range of polar cod is likely to contract. Temperature had a much larger impact on polar cod abundance than competitor abundance and predator abundance, especially in the eastern Bering Sea. However, when we included data from northern and eastern Bering Sea in 2010 and 2017, polar cod were less likely to occur in warmer waters when either Pacific cod or walleye pollock were present. Northward range expansions of subarctic Pacific cod and walleye pollock may further restrict polar cod distributions.


Boreogadus saida Bering Sea Labrador Sea Interspecific interactions Climate change Spatial distribution 



This study was funded in part by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) Award # M12AC00009 and in part with qualified outer continental shelf oil and gas revenues by the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior (contracts #s: 10-CIAP-010; F12AF00188). This publication is the result in part of research sponsored by the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research with funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under cooperative agreement NA13OAR4320056 with the University of Alaska. Additional funding for graduate student support was provided by the North Pacific Research Board Graduate Research Award, J. Frances Allen Scholarship, Dr. H. Richard Carlson Scholarship, and the Al Tyler Memorial Scholarship. We thank Katrin Iken, Terry Quinn II, and Seth Danielson for feedback on previous drafts, Earl Dawe and William A. Coffey, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada, for providing data for the Labrador / Newfoundland region, and Robert Lauth, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, for providing data for the Bering Sea. We thank Caroline Bouchard and three anonymous reviewers for comments that resulted in a much improved manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary file1 (DOCX 95 kb)
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Supplementary file2 (DOCX 138 kb)
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Supplementary file3 (DOCX 137 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Fisheries and Ocean SciencesUniversity of Alaska FairbanksJuneauUSA

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