The Skagerrak and Kattegat are estuarine straits of high hydrographical and ecological diversity, situated between the saline waters of the North Sea and the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. These sustain important nursery grounds of many fish species, of which several overwinter during the larval and early juvenile stages. In order to give more insight into the communities of the overwintering ichthyoplankton in estuarine areas, we examine an annual series of observations from a standard survey carried out 1992–2010. Species differences and annual variability in distributions and abundances are described, and linkages between ichthyoplankton abundances and corresponding hydrographical information are analysed by GAM methods. Communities were dominated by herring, gobies, butterfish, sprat, pipefishes, lemon sole and European eel (i.e. glass eel), and all the sampled species showed large annual fluctuations in abundances. The species showed quite specific patterns of distribution although species assemblages with common distributional characteristics were identified. Within these assemblages, the ichthyoplankton abundances showed linkage to environmental characteristics described by bottom-depth and surface temperature and salinity. Hence the study points to a significant structuring of overwintering ichthyoplankton communities in large estuaries, based on the species habitat choice and its response to physical gradients.
- over-wintering ichthyoplankton
- fish larvae communities
- estuarine gradient
- distributional patterns