Spatial and temporal variation in fish populations and assemblages in coastal waters of the northern Baltic Proper
Mustamäki, Noora (2015-06-12)
Åbo Akademi University
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The distribution and traits of fish are of interest both ecologically and socio-economically. In this thesis, phenotypic and structural variation in fish populations and assemblages was studied on multiple spatial and temporal scales in shallow coastal areas in the archipelago of the northern Baltic Proper. In Lumparn basin in Åland Islands, the fish assemblage displayed significant seasonal variation in depth zone distribution. The results indicate that investigating both spatial and temporal variation in small scale is crucial for understanding patterns in fish distribution and community structure in large scale. The local population of Eurasian perch Perca fluviatilis L displayed habitat-specific morphological and dietary variation. Perch in the pelagic zone were on average deeper in their body shape than the littoral ones and fed on fish and benthic invertebrates. The results differ from previous studies conducted in freshwater habitats, where the pelagic perch typically are streamlined in body shape and zooplanktivorous. Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen differed between perch with different stomach contents, suggesting differentiation of individual diet preferences. In the study areas Lumparn and Ivarskärsfjärden in Åland Islands and Galtfjärden in Swedish east coast, the development in fish assemblages during the 2000’s indicated a general shift towards higher abundances of small-bodied lower-order consumers, especially cyprinids. For European pikeperch Sander lucioperca L., recent declines in adult fish abundances and high mortalities (Z = 1.06–1.16) were observed, which suggests unsustainably high fishing pressure on pikeperch. Based on the results it can be hypothesized that fishing has reduced the abundances of large predatory fish, which together with bottom-up forcing by eutrophication has allowed the lower-order consumer species to increase in abundances. This thesis contributes to the scientific understanding of aquatic ecosystems with new descriptions on morphological and dietary adaptations in perch in brackish water, and on the seasonal variation in small-scale spatial fish distribution. The results also demonstrate anthropogenic effects on coastal fish communities and underline the urgency of further reducing nutrient inputs and regulating fisheries in the Baltic Sea region.