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Exposing changing phenology of fish larvae by modeling climate effects on temporal early life-stage shifts

Benjamin Weigel*, Jussi Mäkinen, Meri Kallasvuo, Jarno Vanhatalo

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Changing environmental conditions are influencing the seasonal timing in life history events of organisms. Such shifts in phenology are often linked to increasing temperatures that stimulate faster developments or earlier arrivals. This phenomenon has been demonstrated in terrestrial and aquatic realms, but there is only little data and knowledge on how early life stages of fish are affected over long-term and broad environmental scales. Here, we analyze two decades (1974-1996) of size-class specific Baltic herring (Clupea harengus membras L.) larval data along the whole coast of Finland to expose shifts in phenology linked to changes in environmental covariates. We use a novel Bayesian hierarchical spatio-temporal Hurdle model that describes larval occurrence and abundance with separate processes. Abundances are modeled with the Ricker population growth model that enables us to predict the size-specific larvae groups in relation to the environment, while accounting for the population density dependence. We quantify shifts in phenology at multiple life stages, based on first appearances of smallest (<10 mm) and by detection of higher proportions of larger larvae (>15 mm) appearing earlier. Our results show a strong signal in shifting phenology of the larvae toward an earlier development of 7.7 days per decade. Increasing temperature had a positive effect on the earlier development of larger larvae. Additionally, we highlight that the survival of larvae becomes more density dependent as their size increases. Our modeling framework can reveal phenological shifts of early life stages in relation to environmental change for survey data that does not necessarily cover the onset of reproduction.