Spatio-temporal variation in marine fish traits reveals community-wide responses to environmental change

Esther Beukhof*, Tim S. Dencker, Lauréne Pécuchet, Martin Lindegren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

523 Downloads (Pure)


Marine ecosystems are exposed to a range of environmental and anthropogenic stressors, including climate change and overexploitation. A promising way towards understanding the impacts of such stressors on community composition is by considering species traits rather than species identity. Here, we describe the spatio-temporal dynamics in fish community traits using >30 yr of species abundance data from the North Sea combined with trait information on body size, life history, growth rate, reproduction and trophic level for demersal fish species in the area. We assessed whether the derived patterns and trends in community-weighted mean traits could be explained by a range of environmental stressors and fishing. Our results revealed strong spatial structuring and long-term changes in the trait composition of North Sea fish, with temporal changes not being uniformly distributed in space. Among the environmental drivers investigated, depth was one of the best predictors, primarily explaining the spatial variation in lifespan, growth rate, trophic level and fecundity. This can be explained by variables that co-vary with depth, e.g. temperature, seasonality, salinity and productivity. Finally, we found only weak relationships between fishing and the spatial variation of traits, suggesting that the spatial trait composition of the community is mostly determined by the environment. Yet, long-term changes in trait composition, primarily in body size, have previously been shown to be affected by size-selective fishing. Our study exemplifies how traits can be used to summarize complex community dynamics and responses to environmental and anthropogenic stressors as well as their usefulness for ecosystembased management
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology - Progress Series
Pages (from-to)205-222
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Marine Fish
  • Traits
  • Spatio-temporal
  • Community-weighted mean
  • North Sea
  • Community composition
  • Climate change
  • Fishing


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatio-temporal variation in marine fish traits reveals community-wide responses to environmental change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this