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Publication - Professor Martin Genner

    Swimbladder morphology masks Southern Ocean mesopelagic fish biomass


    Dornan, T, Fielding, S, Saunders, RA & Genner, MJ, 2019, ‘Swimbladder morphology masks Southern Ocean mesopelagic fish biomass’. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol 286.


    Within the twilight of the oceanic mesopelagic realm, 200–1000 m below sea level, are potentially vast resources of fish. Collectively, these mesopelagic fishes are the most abundant vertebrates on Earth, and this global fish community plays a vital role in the function of oceanic ecosystems. The biomass of these fishes has recently been estimated using acoustic survey methods, which rely on echosounder-generated signals being reflected from gas-filled swimbladders and detected by transducers on vessels. Here, we use X-ray computed tomography scans to demonstrate that several of the most abundant species of mesopelagic fish in the Southern Ocean lack gas-filled swimbladders. We also show using catch data from survey trawls that the fish community switches from fish possessing gas-filled swimbladders to those lacking swimbladders as latitude increases towards the Antarctic continent. Thus, the acoustic surveys that repeatedly show a decrease in mesopelagic fish biomass towards polar environments systematically overlook a large proportion of fish species that dominate polar seas. Importantly, this includes lanternfish species that are key prey items for top predators in the region, including king penguins and elephant seals. This latitudinal community switch, from gas to non-gas dominance, has considerable implications for acoustic biomass estimation, ecosystem modelling and long-term monitoring of species at risk from climate change and potential exploitation.

    Full details in the University publications repository