Get up early: Revealing behavioral responses of sandeel to ocean warming using commercial catch data

Ole Henriksen*, Anna Rindorf, Henrik Mosegaard, Mark R. Payne, Mikael van Deurs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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1. Warming of the oceans and shifts in the timing of annual key events are likely to cause behavioral changes in species showing a high degree of site fidelity. While this is well studied in terrestrial systems, there are fewer examples from the marine environment. Sandeel (Ammodytes marinus) is a small eel-shaped teleost fish with strong behavioral attachment to sandy habitats in which they are buried from late summer through winter. When spring arrives, the sandeel emerge to feed during the day for several of months before returning to the sand for overwintering refuge.
2. Using fisheries data from the North Sea, we investigated whether catch rates reflect the timing of emergence and if seasonal patterns are related to temperature and primary production.
3. Catch per unit effort (CPUE) was used to describe sandeel emergence. We developed indicators of the relative timing of the emergence from the winter sand refuge and the subsequent growth period. Different modeling approaches were used to investigate the relationship with bottom temperature and primary production.
4. Variation in emergence behavior was correlated with variation in sea bottom temperature. Warmer years were characterized by earlier emergence. Significant warming over the last three decades was evident in all sandeel habitats in the North Sea throughout most of their adult life history, though no net shift in the phenology of emergence was detected. Minimum temperature during spring was a better predictor of emergence behavior than, for example, degree days.
5. This study emphasizes how temperature-induced changes in behavior may have implications for predators and fisheries of sandeel. The method can be applied to other species for which the timing of exploitation (i.e., fisheries) and species life history are well matched.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number23
Pages (from-to)16786-16805
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Climate change
  • Dormancy
  • Emergence
  • Fish
  • North sea
  • Phenology
  • Temperature


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