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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 308:243-254 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps308243

Baltic sprat larvae: coupling food availability, larval condition and survival

Rüdiger Voss1,*, Catriona Clemmesen1, Hannes Baumann2, Hans Harald Hinrichsen1

1Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Kiel, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany
2Institute for Hydrobiology and Fisheries, University of Hamburg, Olbersweg 24, 22767 Hamburg, Germany

ABSTRACT: Eggs and larvae of Baltic sprat Sprattus sprattus L. were collected during 14 cruises covering the spawning season in 2002 in Bornholm Basin. Main egg and larval production was in April, with a second small peak in June 2002. The in situ larval abundance was corrected for transport processes by hydrodynamic model runs. Corrected larval abundance estimates were compared to initial larval production to derive an index of larval mortality. This index suggested a much higher survival of summer- over spring-born sprat larvae, with pronounced differences in survival for larvae >11 mm. Independent evidence for this survival pattern was gained by measured RNA:DNA ratios in sprat larvae hatched from April to July 2002 and was linked to temporal variability in potential prey abundance. We found higher mean but less variable RNA:DNA ratios in spring- than in summer-born larvae, indicating a strong selection for fast growth in April and May but a less selective environment in June and July. Zooplankton data revealed high naupliar concentrations of Acartia spp. (a key dietary component of sprat) in April and May, but very low concentrations of larger prey items such as copepodites or adults. In contrast, abundance of larger prey increased considerably in June and July. The results suggest that larger sprat (>11 mm) in April and May 2002 may have been food limited and, therefore, had lower rates of survival, supporting the underlying hypothesis of size-specific, temporally limited ‘windows of survival’ linked to the availability of suitable prey.

KEY WORDS: Baltic Sea · Sprat larvae · Condition · Food availability · Mortality · Hydrodynamic modelling

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