Linking vertical movements of large pelagic predators with distribution patterns of biomass in the open ocean

Camrin D. Braun*, Alice Della Penna, Martin C. Arostegui, Pedro Afonso, Michael L. Berumen, Barbara A. Block, Craig A. Brown, Jorge Fontes, Miguel Furtado, Austin J. Gallagher, Peter Gaube, Walter J. Golet, Jeff Kneebone, Bruno C.L. Macena, Gonzalo Mucientes, Eric S. Orbesen, Nuno Queiroz, Brendan D. Shea, Jason Schratwieser, David W. SimsGregory B. Skomal, Derke Snodgrass, Simon R. Thorrold

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many predator species make regular excursions from near-surface waters to the twilight (200 to 1,000 m) and midnight (1,000 to 3,000 m) zones of the deep pelagic ocean. While the occurrence of significant vertical movements into the deep ocean has evolved independently across taxonomic groups, the functional role(s) and ecological significance of these movements remain poorly understood. Here, we integrate results from satellite tagging efforts with model predictions of deep prey layers in the North Atlantic Ocean to determine whether prey distributions are correlated with vertical habitat use across 12 species of predators. Using 3D movement data for 344 individuals who traversed nearly 1.5 million km of pelagic ocean in >42,000 d, we found that nearly every tagged predator frequented the twilight zone and many made regular trips to the midnight zone. Using a predictive model, we found clear alignment of predator depth use with the expected location of deep pelagic prey for at least half of the predator species. We compared high-resolution predator data with shipboard acoustics and selected representative matches that highlight the opportunities and challenges in the analysis and synthesis of these data. While not all observed behavior was consistent with estimated prey availability at depth, our results suggest that deep pelagic biomass likely has high ecological value for a suite of commercially important predators in the open ocean. Careful consideration of the disruption to ecosystem services provided by pelagic food webs is needed before the potential costs and benefits of proceeding with extractive activities in the deep ocean can be evaluated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number47
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 the Author(s). Published by PNAS. This article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND)


  • bio-logging
  • bioacoustics
  • deep ocean
  • marine megafauna
  • movement ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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