Hypoxic areas, density-dependence and food limitation drive the body condition of a heavily exploited marine fish predator

Michele Casini, Filip Käll, Martin Hansson, Maris Plikshs, Tatjana Baranova, Olle Karlsson, Karl Lundström, Stefan Neuenfeldt, Anna Gårdmark, Joakim Hjelm

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Investigating the factors regulating fish condition is crucial in ecology and the management of exploited fish populations. The body condition of cod (Gadus morhua) in the Baltic Sea has dramatically decreased during the past two decades, with large implications for the fishery relying on this resource. Here, we statistically investigated the potential drivers of the Baltic cod condition during the past 40 years using newly compiled fishery-independent biological data and hydrological observations. We evidenced a combination of different factors operating before and after the ecological regime shift that occurred in the Baltic Sea in the early 1990s. The changes in cod condition related to feeding opportunities, driven either by density-dependence or food limitation, along the whole period investigated and to the fivefold increase in the extent of hypoxic areas in the most recent 20 years. Hypoxic areas can act on cod condition through different mechanisms related directly to species physiology, or indirectly to behaviour and trophic interactions. Our analyses found statistical evidence for an effect of the hypoxia-induced habitat compression on cod condition possibly operating via crowding and density-dependent processes. These results furnish novel insights into the population dynamics of Baltic Sea cod that can aid the management of this currently threatened population.
Original languageEnglish
Article number160416
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Baltic Sea
  • cod (Gadus morhua)
  • density-dependence
  • hypoxia
  • prey availability
  • suitable habitat

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