MEPS 165:127-136 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps165127

Changes in northern Baltic zooplankton and herring nutrition from 1980s to 1990s: top-down and bottom-up processes at work

Juha Flinkman1,*, Eero Aro2, Ilppo Vuorinen3, Markku Viitasalo4

1University of Helsinki, Tvärminne Zoological Station, FIN-10900 Hanko, Finland 2Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, FIN-00151 Helsinki, Finland 3Archipelago Sea Research Institute, FIN-20014 University of Turku, Finland 4Department of Ecology and Systematics, Division of Hydrobiology, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
*Correspondence address: Finnish Institute of Marine Research, PO Box 33, FIN-00931 Helsinki, Finland. E-mail:

During the stagnation period of the Baltic Sea the mean weight-at-age of Baltic herring decreased by 50% (between 1977 and 1992). This has usually been attributed to a top-down process, i.e. to the simultaneous collapse of cod stocks and their predation. We present long-term data for 1980 to 1993 showing that bottom-up effects may also have played a role: along with the decline of salinity, the biomass proportion of zooplankton taxa preferred by herring (larger than 20 µg ind.-1 in wet weight) significantly declined. To support our hypothesis we present a study in which Baltic herring feeding and selective predation were investigated during 1985, a time of good growth and high weight-at-age, and 1991, when herring growth and weight-at-age were poor. In this study, herring stomachs and simultaneously taken plankton samples were analysed from trawl surveys conducted in the northern Baltic proper during the peak of the herring feeding season in late summer. During both 1985 and 1991, herring selectively preyed on the larger zooplankton categories, especially neritic copepods. However, in 1991, a smaller proportion of the prey in herring stomachs consisted of neritic copepods, apparently because their share in plankton had decreased. Consequently, and despite an increase in total zooplankton biomass, the estimated carbon content of the food eaten by herring was lower, and the average stomach fullness index (on a scale of 0 to 5) decreased from 3.9 in 1985 to 1.9 in 1991. Also, the amount of mesenteric fat on herring stomachs declined from 4.2 to 3.2 (scale 0 to 5), indicating a longer-term failure in feeding success. We suggest that, in addition to possible top-down effects (a release of cod predation), bottom-up processes mediated via changes in mesozooplankton species composition have also influenced herring growth and that both of these processes are affected by the same environmental factor--the Baltic salinity level.


Clupea harengus membras · Baltic Sea · Herring nutrition · Mesozooplankton · Selective predation · Top-down and bottom-up control


Full text in pdf format