MEPS 610:205-222 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12826

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

Esther Beukhof*, Tim S. Dencker, Laurene Pecuchet, Martin Lindegren

Centre for Ocean Life, National Institute of Aquatic Resources (DTU Aqua), 2800 Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: 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 ecosystem-based management.


KEY WORDS: Marine fish · Traits · Spatio-temporal · Community weighted mean · North Sea · Community composition · Climate change · Fishing


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Cite this article as: Beukhof E, Dencker TS, Pecuchet L, Lindegren M (2019) Spatio-temporal variation in marine fish traits reveals community-wide responses to environmental change. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 610:205-222. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12826

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