Recruitment processes in Baltic sprat - A re-evaluation of GLOBEC Germany hypotheses

Rudiger Voss, M.A. Peck, H.-H. Hinrichsen, C. Clemmesen, H. Baumann, D. Stepputis, M. Bernreuther, J.O. Schmidt, A. Temming, Fritz Köster

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The GLOBEC Germany program (2002–2007) had the ambitious goal to resolve the processes impacting the recruitment dynamics ofBalticsprat (Sprattus sprattus L.) by examining various factors affecting early life history stages. At the start of the research program, a number of general recruitmenthypotheses were formulated, i.e. focusing on (1) predation, (2) food availability, (3) physical parameters, (4) the impact of current systems, and finally (5) the importance of top-down vs bottom-up effects. The present study synthesizes the results of field sampling (2002 and 2003), laboratory experiments, and modeling studies to re-evaluate these hypotheses for the Balticsprat stock. Recruitment success was quite different in the 2 years investigated. Despite a lower spawning stock biomass in 2003, the total number of recruits was almost 2-fold higher that year compared to 2002. The higher recruitment success in 2003 could be attributed to enhanced survival success during the post-larval/juvenile stage, a life phase that appears to be critical for recruitment dynamics. In the state of the Baltic ecosystem during the period of investigation, we consider bottom-up control (e.g. temperature, prey abundance) to be more important than top-down control (predation mortality). This ranking in importance does not vary seasonally. Prevailing water circulation patterns and the transport dynamics of larval cohorts have a strong influence on spratrecruitment success. Pronounced transport to coastal areas is detrimental for year-class strength particularly at high sprat stock sizes. A suggested mechanism is density-dependant regulation of survival via intra- and inter-specific competition for prey in coastal areas. A documented change in larval vertical migration behavior between the early 1990s and early 2000s increased the transport potential to the coast, strengthening the coupling between inter-annual differences in the magnitude and direction of wind-driven surface currents and year-to-year changes in reproductive success. However, due to the strong linkages and feed-back loops in the Baltic Sea food web, the most robust projections of the future strength of the Balticsprat stock will need to take into account climate-driven changes in both abiotic (e.g., drift trajectories) and biotic (trophodynamic) factors. Although our understanding ofprocesses affecting pre-recruit (larval) growth and survival has been advanced by the integrated research conducted within the GLOBECGermany program, key mechanisms potentially affecting life stages outside of the spawning basins remain to be explored including the dynamics of coastal habitats of juveniles and the feeding and overwintering grounds of adults
Original languageEnglish
JournalProgress in Oceanography
Pages (from-to)61-79
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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