Research Document 2018/067

Overview of the biophysical and ecological components of the Labrador Sea Frontier Area

By Coté, D., Heggland, K., Roul, S., Roberston, G., Fifield, D., Wareham, V., Colbourne, E., Maillet, G., Devine, B., Pilgrim, L., Pretty, C., Le Corre, N., Lawson, J.W., Fuentes-Yaco, C. and Mercier, A.

Abstract

The Labrador Sea contains a gyre that likely collects and retains passively-transported nutrients and organisms, which in turn has the potential to attract species at higher trophic levels. Existing ecological data confirm that the LSFA supports year round use by migratory marine mammals, seabirds, and fish; several species of which migrate from beyond the region (temperate and tropical latitudes, the Northeast Atlantic and Hudson Bay). Several LSFA inhabitants (e.g., seabirds and marine mammals) are species of conservation concern and many others (e.g., deep-sea fish) have life history characteristics that make them sensitive to anthropogenic disturbance. Nevertheless, many aspects of the LSFA’s ecosystem remain poorly understood and important ecosystem characterization must occur prior to recommending conservation objectives.

Data gaps are most prominent for some ecological processes (productivity, connectivity, temporal variability) and broad taxa groups (benthos and fish), where the most basic information (community composition, life history information and trophic relationships) is unavailable. Such a broad array of data gaps will require a prioritized research plan. It is suggested that in the short-term, Science initiatives focus on better characterization of the following three ecosystem elements:

  • Mesopelagic fish,
  • Demersal fish, and
  • Benthic communities (particularly echinoderms, corals, sponges and infauna).

General areas of research beyond characterizing community composition should focus on processes of connectivity (drift models, genetics), productivity, trophic links (fatty acids, stable isotopes, stomach contents) and habitat-faunal relationships (e.g., currents, sea bottom).

A better ecological understanding of the LSFA will facilitate stakeholder engagement during the MPA establishment process, enable optimized placement of MPA boundaries and more informed management upon MPA establishment. Research initiatives will also provide an opportunity to contribute to a better understanding of a globally significant region and can enhance collaborations with indigenous communities and researchers.

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