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Sandeel display strong site-fidelity, and spend most of their life buried in the seabed. This strategy carries important ecological implications. Sandeels save energy when they are not foraging but in return are unable to move substantially and therefore possibly are sensitive to local depletion of prey. Here we studied zooplankton consumption and energy conversion efficiency of lesser sandeel (Ammodytes marinus) in the central North Sea, using stomach data, length and weight-at-age data, bioenergetics, and hydrodynamic modeling. The results suggested: (i) Lesser sandeel in the Dogger area depend largely on relatively large copepods in early spring. (ii) Lesser sandeel is an efficient converter making secondary production into fish tissue available for higher trophic levels. Hence, changes in species composition towards a more herring dominated system, as seen in recent times, may lead to a decrease in system transfer efficiency. (iii) Sandeels leave footprints in the standing copepod biomass as far as 100 km from the edge of their habitat, but smaller and more isolated sandeel habitat patches have a much lower impact than larger patches, suggesting that smaller habitats can sustain higher sandeel densities and growth rates per area than larger habitats
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