The European sprat (Sprattus sprattus) was a main target species of the German GLOBEC program that investigated the trophodynamic structure and function of the Baltic and North Seas under the influence of physical forcing. This review summarizes literature on the ecophysiology of sprat with an emphasis on describing how environmental factors influence the life-history strategy of this small pelagic fish. Ontogenetic changes in feeding and growth, and the impacts of abiotic and biotic factors on vital rates are discussed with particular emphasis on the role of temperature as a constraint to life-history scheduling of this species in the Baltic Sea. A combination of field and laboratory data suggests that optimal thermal windows for growth and survival change during early life and are wider for eggs (5–17°C) than in young (8- to 12-mm) early feeding larvae (5–12°C). As larvae become able to successfully capture larger prey, thermal windows expand to include warmer waters. For example, 12- to 16-mm larvae can grow well at 16°C and larger, transitional-larvae and early juveniles display the highest rates of feeding and growth at ∼18–22°C. Gaps in knowledge are identified including the need for additional laboratory studies on the physiology and behavior of larvae (studies that will be particularly critical for biophysical modeling activities) and research addressing the role of overwinter survival as a factor shaping phenology and setting limits on the productivity of this species in areas located at the northern limits of its latitudinal range (such as the Baltic Sea). Based on stage- and temperature-specific mortality and growth potential of early life stages, our analysis suggests that young-of-the year sprat would benefit from inhabiting warmer, near-shore environments rather than the deeper-water spawning grounds such as the Bornholm Basin (central Baltic Sea). Utilization of warmer, nearshore waters (or a general increase in Baltic Sea temperatures) is expected to accelerate growth rates but also enhance the possibility for density-dependent regulation of recruitment (e.g., top-down control of zooplankton resources) acting during the late-larval and juvenile stages, particularly when sprat stocks are at high levels.