Patterns of distribution and spatial indicators of ecosystem change based on key species in the Southern Benguela

Several commercially and ecologically important species in the southern Benguela have undergone southward and eastward shifts in their distributions over previous decades, most notably the small pelagic fish sardine Sardinops sagax and anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus . Understanding these changes and their implications is essential in implementing an ecosystem approach to fisheries in the southern Benguela and attempting to appreciate the potential impacts of future environmental change. To investigate possible impacts of these shifts at an ecosystem level, distribution maps for before (1985-1991), during (1997-2000) and after (2003-2008) the shift in small pelagic fish were constructed for 14 key species from catch and survey data, and used to calculate spatial indicators including proportion east and west of Cape Agulhas, relative overlap in biomass and area, index of diversity, connectivity. Potential interactions on the south and west coasts were also compared. For several species (redeye; chub mackerel; kingklip; chokka squid; yellowtail), previously unidentified increases in the proportion of biomass east of Cape Agulhas were shown to have occurred over the same period as that of small pelagic fish, although none to the same degree. On average, overlap with small pelagic fish increased over time and overall system connectivity was lowest in the intermediate period, possibly indicating a system under transition. Connectivity declined over time on the west coast while increasing on the east coast. Distributions of other species have changed over time, with the region east of Cape Agulhas becoming increasingly important in terms of potential trophic interaction. Variations in distribution of biomass and structural complexity affect the trophic structure and hence functioning of the system, and implications should be considered when attempting to identify the possible ecosystem impacts of current and future system-level change.