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  • Evaluating the ecological health of Puget Sound's pelagic foodweb


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Fish Ecology FE - Watershed


Marine Pelagic Food Web
Evaluating the ecological health of Puget Sound's pelagic foodweb
To evaluate effects of human influence on the health of Puget Sound's pelagic ecosystems, we propose a sampling program across multiple oceanographic basins measuring key attributes of the pelagic foodweb. We will quantify seasonal abundance and composition of pelagic biota from lower trophic levels (e.g., bacteria and phytoplankton) to middle trophic levels (e.g., zooplankton, small pelagic fishes, and jellyfish), as well as assess the individual condition of forage fish and juvenile salmon.

The goals of this program:

1) Determine how foodweb endpoints vary across natural and anthropogenic gradients.

2) Determine how these characteristics vary across Puget Sound.

3) Evaluate a number of biological metrics for monitoring ecosystem health.

These outputs will improve our basic understanding of pelagic ecology in Puget Sound, better define what comprises a healthy pelagic ecosystem in Puget Sound, determine foodweb-relevant indicators that are sensitive to human influence, and help prioritize regional protection and restoration efforts. Work is conducted by NOAA personnel and contractors in collaboration with tribal partners (Squaxin, Port Gamble/S'Klallam), undergraduate research interns, and citizen volunteers.

Research Themes

Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
The California Current Large Marine Ecosystem, Puget Sound and the Columbia River Basin are home to a wide range of freshwater and marine resources that provide a wealth of ecosystem goods and services. Ensuring the resiliency and productivity of the California Current and Pacific Northwest ecosystems requires an integrated understanding of their structure, function, and vulnerability to increased human population growth in coastal communities and competing uses of coastal waterways and oceans. The NWFSC‘s approach to understanding these large ecosystems integrates studies across ecosystems (terrestrial, freshwater, and marine) and scientific disciplines to inform resource managers responsible for conserving marine resources.
Habitats to support sustainable fisheries and recovered populations
Healthy oceans, coastal waters, and riverine habitats provide the foundation for aquatic resources used by a diversity of species and society. Protecting marine, estuarine and freshwater ecosystems that support these species relies on science to link habitat condition/processes and the biological effects of restoration actions. The NWFSC provides the habitat science behind many management actions taken by NOAA Fisheries and other natural resource agencies to protect and recover aquatic ecosystems and living marine resources. The NWFSC also maintains a longstanding focus on toxic chemical contaminants, as a foundation for regional and national research on pollution threats to fisheries and protected resources.

Research Foci

Characterize ecological interactions (e.g. predation, competition, parasitism, disease, etc.) within and among species
Predator-prey interactions, inter- and intra-specific competition, and parasites and pathogens influence the survival, growth, and reproductive success of anadromous and marine fishes, marine mammals and other marine organisms. Moreover, anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and fishing, can influence these interactions. Because of the complex nature of these interactions, addressing questions about ecological interactions will require novel field and laboratory studies and analyses. This includes ecosystem models, use of innovative technologies (e.g., otolith microchemistry and stable isotopes), integration of sample collection efforts with those of the Ocean Observing System entities on the west coast, and quantifying interactions among environmental stressors, species behavior and ecosystem processes.
Characterize the interaction of human use and habitat distribution, quantity and quality
The ability to define the state of an ecosystem requires insight into the natural processes within habitats, and how anthropogenic interactions with these processes can alter ecosystems and marine organisms. A wide diversity of human activities -- land use and water withdrawals, industrialization and dredging, fishing practices and climate change (e.g., ocean acidification) -- directly and indirectly impact critical freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats. To best manage west coast marine, estuarine and freshwater habitats in a sustainable fashion, it is necessary to map the spatial and temporal footprint of human impacts and review their potential biological impact on each species of interest. Measurement parameters will be developed to determine the full range of human impacts using spatial data and improved habitat classification.
Describe the interaction between human activities, particularly harvest of marine resources, and ecosystem function
Humans are an integral component of ecosystems. These ecosystems provide goods and services such as fish and seafood harvests, but these activities and others such as habitat alteration, pollution, and ocean acidification, can have strong impacts. Understanding the nature of these interactions will require observational and experimental studies aimed at identifying ecosystem-level responses to human activities, both individually and cumulatively, as well as human responses to ecosystem changes. Modeling spatial choices for harvesting and other human activities that are affected by ecosystem integrity, for example, can support a better understanding of the effects of ecosystembased management actions.


Puget Sound
Puget Sound
bacterial communities
microbial ecology measure
chlorophyll A
microbial ecology measure
ecological and geographic unit
food web
complex of interrelated food chains in an ecological community
heterotrophic production
microbial ecology measure
low dissolved oxygen
water quality indicators
marine microbes
all microbes
microbial abundance
microbial ecology measure
nearshore pelagic
subtidal neritic habitats
water quality indicators
all salmonids


Abundance and composition of forage fish across Puget Sound’s pelagic ecosystem
Salish Sea Conference Presentation
Comparison of acoustic/Ricker sampling with surface trawls
Manuscript comparing catch data from 2 fishing methods
Comparisons of historical townet data with recent surveys
Manuscript examining townet data collected historically & contemporaneously
Distribution & abundance of larval fish in nearshore pelagic waters of Puget Sound
Manuscript describing larval fish in nearshore pelagic waters
Evaluating the ecological health of Puget Sound’s pelagic food web
Salish Sea Conference Poster
Final project report for "Evaluating the ecological health of Puget Sound's pelagic foodweb"
Final report to funding agency
Influence of water residency on foodweb metrics
Manuscript integrating hydrodynamic modeling with foodweb metrics
Integrative metrics for monitoring the ecological health of Puget Sound
Manuscript describing multi-trophic integrative indicators for pelagic foodweb condition
Landscape patterns of lower to middle trophic level structure across natural and anthropogenic gradients in Puget Sound, Washington
Science Center Research Symposium talk
Linking local and regional land use with abundance and composition of fish in Puget Sound’s pelagic zone
CERF Conference Symposium on Habitat assessments
Looking closer to home: microbial ecology studies in Puget Sound
Oceans & Human Health seminar series
Microbial ecology of nearshore waters of Puget Sound
Manuscript characterizing microbial ecology of nearshore marine waters
Modeling salmonid & forage fish growth in Puget Sound through growth hormone
Manuscript modeling salmon & forage fish growth by growth hormone
Temporal shifts in plankton distribution & abundance in Puget Sound nearshore pelagic system
Manuscript examining planktonic community patterns across monthly scales
Testing the bifurcated foodweb hypothesis
Manuscript describing how collected data addresses a fundamental foodweb question
Trends in abundance and composition of forage fish across Puget Sound: A fragmented 30-year comparison
AFS National Conference Symposium on forage fish


Class Actinopterygii
ray-finned fishes
Class Aves
Class Malacostraca
Class Mammalia
Class Maxillopoda
Kingdom Animalia
Kingdom Archaea
Kingdom Bacteria
Order Clupeiformes
Order Lampriformes
Order Salmoniformes
Phylum Arthropoda
Phylum Bacillariophyta
Phylum Chordata
Phylum Cnidaria


Brian Beckman
Casimir Rice
Correigh Greene
Principal Investigator
Jason Hall
Project Group Lead
Joshua Chamberlin
Project Group Lead
Kurt Fresh
Linda Rhodes
Shelly Nance