Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Spatial response of North Sea plaice and sole to climate change

Climate change is currently one of the main driving forces behind changes in species distributions. Understanding mechanisms that underpin macroecological patterns is necessary for a more predictive science. Warming sea temperatures are expected to drive changes in ectothermic marine species ranges due to their thermal tolerance levels. Here, a mechanistic tool was developed to predict size- and season-specific distributions of two commercially important fish species in the North Sea (plaice, sole) based on the physiology of the species and their temperature and food conditions. Combining dynamic energy budget (DEB) models with output from an ecosystem model (ERSEM), allowed spatial differences in growth potential to be estimated. Habitat quality maps were compared to observed ontogenetic changes in distribution as well as with recent known distribution shifts. The physiological-based model provides a powerful tool to explore the effect of climate change on spatio-temporal fish dynamics and predict effects of environmental change.

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Scope for growth can be used as a proxy for habitat quality of sole and plaice.

For both plaice and sole differences in the quality of the natural habitat was studied for two contrasting years. Two models were used: a dynamic energy budget (DEB) model to describe the physiology of both species and an ecosystem model (ERSEM) for temperature and food conditions. Combining the results from both models enabled the quality of the natural habitat per fish per year to be assessed. The findings largely correspond with observed movement patterns, which are linked to the age of the fish and the season. This provides some validation of the model and approach taken. Thee results also explain recent changes in fish movement, which can be linked to rising coastal temperatures.

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Recent offshore shift of juvenile plaice can be related to increasing sea water temperatures.

The habitat maps compiled from the models give a clear picture of the quality of the habitat of the fish being studied. The maps show that a rise in sea temperature encourages growth among sole (a more southern species). Young plaice, however, do not do as well in warmer seawater. The habitat around the coast of the southern North Sea, which has always been a valuable nursery habitat of both species, is warming up beyond the temperature preference of juvenile plaice. This may explain the recent phenomenon showing an offshore shift in juvenile plaice distributions.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Alien Invasive Species Directive
  • Common Fisheries Policy
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Lead Author:

Lorna R. Teal
(lorna.tealnospam@wur.nl)
Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies (DLO-IMARES)
Date of research: November 2012

Related articles:

Connectivity: plaice spawning and nursery areas 

Changes on stocks and management in saithe fishery 

Climate change: flatfish and shrimp fisheries 

Cod, recruitment, temperature and zooplankton

Habitat suitability of native and invasive species 

Impact of environmental changes on North Sea herring

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The content of this website may be subject to copyright, if you wish to use any of the information or figures please contact the attributed author(s).
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.