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.


All of the publications created as part of the VECTORS project are listed below (latest first).
Please use the search box below to find a publication by title, author(s), year or keyword; the most relevant results will be displayed at the top of the page.

  • Bevilacquea, S., A. Terlizzi, J. Claudet, S. Fraschetti and F. Boero. (2012). Taxonomic relatedness does not matter for species surrogacy in the assessment of community responses to environmental drivers. Journal of Applied Ecology 49(2), 357-366. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2011.02096.x
    View abstract 1. Taxonomic sufficiency concerns the use of higher-taxon diversity as a surrogate for species diversity. It represents a fast and cost-effective method to assess community responses to natural and anthropogenic environmental drivers. In spite of the potential applications of using higher taxa as surrogates for species, little research has been carried out to determine the underlying reasons that might make taxonomic surrogacy effective for detecting diversity changes. 2. Here, we determine whether the effectiveness of higher taxa as species surrogates relies mostly on taxonomic relatedness of species (i.e. the relative closeness of species in the Linnaean taxonomic hierarchy) or depends simply on the numerical ratio between species and higher taxa (i.e. the degree of species aggregation). We reviewed the current literature on taxonomic sufficiency to check for any correlation between the effectiveness of higher taxa and the degree of species aggregation across different types of organisms. Tests based on random simulations from diverse marine mollusc assemblages were also carried out to ascertain whether the ability of higher taxa to detect variation in the multivariate structure of assemblages depended on the degree of species aggregation. 3. Mollusc data showed that information loss and the ensuing decrease in statistical power to detect natural or human-driven changes in assemblages at higher taxonomic levels depend on the degree of species aggregation, rather than on the taxonomic resolution employed. Analyses of the literature suggested that such outcomes could be generalizable to a wide range of organisms and environmental settings. 4. Our findings do not support the idea of a direct relationship between taxonomic relatedness and ecological similarity among species. This indicates that taxonomic ranks higher than species may not provide ecologically meaningful information, because higher taxa can behave as random groups of species unlikely to convey consistent responses to natural or human-driven environmental changes. 5. Synthesis and applications. Surrogates of species-level information can be based on the "highest practicable aggregation" of species, irrespective of their taxonomic relatedness. Our findings cast doubt on static taxonomical groupings, legitimizing the use of alternative ways to aggregate species to maximize the use of species surrogacy.
  • Arula, T., H. Ojaveer and H. Spilev. (2012). Individual fecundity of the autumn spawning Baltic herring Clupea harengus membras L. Estonian Journal of Ecology 61(2), 119-134.
    View abstract Variability in reproductive investment is an important factor behind recruitment and population dynamics of fish. We investigated absolute individual fecundity (AF) of the currently depleted population of autumn spawning herring in the northern Baltic Sea over three sequential years (2008-2010). Fecundity of fish in relation to changes in individual body mass, individual body length, body condition factor, age, and gonadosomatic index was investigated. AF varied between 11 838 and 108 093 oocytes per fish and, as an average, varied insignificantly between years. AF was positively significantly related to fish length and weight, but not to age. In general, individuals with a higher condition factor (K) had a higher AF. However, the correlation with K was weak or non-significant in some cases. Relative fecundity of the fish was found to vary 24-33% between years, being significantly different in all three years. In addition, the obtained results on AF were compared with historical findings from 1959-1970, when the population was at a high level. Notable differences were found in the AF between the two time periods by age groups, while by weights AF remained the same. The results of the present study, together with ongoing additional biological and ecological investigations, will help to identify mechanisms that configure the fecundity and recruitment processes.
  • Arula, T., J. Kotta, A. Lankov, M. Simm and S. Põlma. (2012). Diet composition and feeding activity of larval spring-spawning herring: importance of environmental variability. Journal of Sea Research 68, 33-40.
    View abstract Availability of suitable prey in sufficient quantities during the shift to exogenous feeding is an important factor determining survival and growth of larval fish. The question of what factors regulate prey consumption in larval fish has remained a focus of fisheries oceanography. In this paper feeding ecology of the larval spring-spawning herring Clupea harengus membras was studied in relation to selected environmental abiotic and biotic parameters in the shallow sheltered Pärnu Bay during the 1970s and 2000s. The copepod Eurytemora affinis was the strongly dominating dietary item during all the years while other prey items were ingested only sporadically. Feeding activity of herring larvae was governed by different environmental variables and the relationships varied amongst the size classes of herring larvae. The studied abiotic (i.e., wind speed, water temperature, water transparency) or biotic variables (i.e., density of copepod nauplii, copepodite stages I-V and adults of E. affinis, mean developmental stage of copepods and density of fish larvae) had no significant effects on the feeding activity of small larvae. The feeding activity of medium larvae was only affected by water transparency and that of large larvae by a combination of water temperature, wind speed and the structure of local copepod community, respectively. On the other hand, the diet composition of all herring larvae was best described by the density of copepod nauplii. In addition, the density of fish larvae improved the model of small larvae and the density of adult copepods that of medium larvae, respectively. Time was significant for the feeding activity of medium larvae indicating some unexplained variability that was not taken into account by the studied abiotic and biotic variables.
  • Bogi, C. and B.S. Galil. (2012). First record of Pseudorhaphitoma cf. iodolabiata (Hornung & Mermod, 1928) (Mollusca; Gastropoda; Mangeliidae) off the Mediterranean coast of Israel. BioInvasions Records 1(1), 33-35.
    View abstract A live juvenile specimen of the mangeliid gastropod Pseudorhaphitoma cf. iodolabiata was noted off the Mediterranean coast of Israel on April 25, 2010, outside the port of Haifa. The occurrence of this Red Sea endemic raises the number of alien mollusk species recorded off the Israeli coast to 137.
  • Bulleri, F., R.C. Mant, L. Benedetti-Cecchi, E. Chatzinikolaou, T.P. Crowe, J. Kotta, D.A. Lyons, G. Rilov and E. Maggi. (2012). The effects of exotic seaweeds on native benthic assemblages: variability between trophic levels and influence of background environmental and biological conditions. Environmental Evidence 1(1), 8.
    View abstract Biological invasions are among the most severe threats to marine biodiversity. The impacts of introduced seaweeds on native macroalgal assemblages have been thoroughly reviewed. In contrast, no attempt has been made to synthesize the available information on the effects of exotic seaweeds on other trophic levels. In addition, it has not been clarified whether the effects of introduced seaweeds on native assemblages vary according to background physical and biological conditions. This protocol provides details of our proposed method to carry out a systematic review aiming to identify and synthesize existing knowledge to answer the following primary questions: a) how does the impact of the presence of exotic seaweeds on native primary consumers (across trophic levels) compare in magnitude and extent to that observed on native primary producers (same trophic level)?; b) does the intensity of the effects of the presence of exotic seaweeds on native benthic ecosystems vary along a gradient of human disturbance (i.e. from urban/industrial areas to extra-urban areas to pristine areas)?
  • David, M., S. Gollasch and E. Leppäkoski. (2012). Risk assessment for exemptions from ballast water management - the intra-Baltic HELCOM study. In: A. Olgun, F. T. Karakoç and F. Haag, editors. Ballast water management systems. Proceedings of the global R&D forum on compliance monitoring and enforcement - the next R&D challenge and opportunity. 26-28 October 2011, Istanbul, Turkey. Kocaeli, Turkey: Tübítak MRC. p. 141-146.
    View abstract This study focuses on intra-Baltic shipping for exemptions from ballast water management requirements based on risk assessment (RA). As a basic framework, the HELCOM Guidance to distinguish between unacceptable high risk scenarios and acceptable low risk scenarios and the IMO G7 Guideline were used. RA methods were selected considering these documents. After studying shipping profiles in the Baltic Sea, possible RA applications were studied on four different routes. The current lack of information regarding alien and cryptogenic species, as well as human pathogens present in port areas of the ballast water donor and recipient points were found as most limiting factors to conduct a RA. This study may be of particular interest for regional seas, for example, the Black and Baltic Seas share some RA-relevant features, such as intensive shipping inside the area and different salinities throughout the sea.
  • Denny, M. and L. Benedetti-Cecchi. (2012). Scaling up in ecology: mechanistic approaches. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 43, 1-22.
    View abstract Ecologists have long grappled with the problem of scaling up from tractable, small-scale observations and experiments to the prediction of large-scale patterns. Although there are multiple approaches to this formidable task, there is a common underpinning in the formulation, testing, and use of mechanistic response functions to describe how phenomena interact across scales.Here, we review the principles of response functions to illustrate how they provide a means to guide research, extrapolate beyond measured data, and simplify our conceptual grasp of reality. We illustrate these principles with examples of mechanistic approaches ranging from explorations of the ecological niche, random walks, and macrophysiology to theories dealing with scale transition, self-organization, and the prediction of extremes.
  • Domenici, P., N.A. Herbert, C. Le François, J.F. Steffensen and D.J. McKenzie. (2012). The effect of hypoxia on fish swimming performance and behaviour. In: A. P. Palstra and J. V. Planas, editors. Swimming physiology of fish. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. p. 129-160.
    View abstract Oxygen depletion, hypoxia, can be a common stressor in aquatic habitats, including aquaculture. Hypoxia limits aerobic swimming performance in fish, by limiting their aerobic metabolic scope. Hypoxia also elicits changes in spontaneous swimming activity, typically causing a decrease in swimming speed in sedentary species and an increase in active species. However, fish do have the capacity to avoid hypoxia and actively choose well-oxygenated areas. Hypoxia causes differences in fish behaviour in schools, it may reduce school density and size and influence activities such as shuffling within schools. Hypoxia also influences predator-prey interactions, in particular by reducing fast-start performance. Thus, through effects on swimming, hypoxia can have profound effects on species distributions in the field. In aquaculture, effects of hypoxia may be particularly significant in sea cages. It is therefore important to understand the nature and thresholds of effects of hypoxia on swimming activity to extrapolate to potential impacts on fish in aquaculture.
  • David, M., M. Perkovic, V. Suban and S. Gollasch. (2012). A generic ballast water discharge assessment model as a decision supporting tool in ballast water management. Decision Support Systems 53(1), 175-185. doi:10.1016/j.dss.2012.01.002
    View abstract One of the critical issues in species invasion ecology is the need to understand and evaluate the dimensions and processes of aquatic organisms transfer with vessels ballast water. The assessment of the quantity of ballast water discharged as the medium of transfer is one of the basic elements of the decision making process in ballast water risk assessment and management. The possibility to assess this in advance of the vessel's arrival to a port enhances the management process and gives port authorities a decision supporting tool to respond in time with adequate measures. A new generic ballast water discharge assessment model has been prepared. The model is based on vessel cargo operation and vessel dimensions. The model was tested on real shipping traffic and ballast water discharge data for the Port of Koper, Slovenia. The results show high confidence in predicting whether a vessel will discharge ballast water, as well in assessing the quantity of ballast water (to be) discharged.
  • De Grave, S., R. Einav and B.S. Galil. (2012). Recent records of the Indo-Pacific species, Lucifer hanseni Nobili, 1905 (Crustacea; Decapoda; Luciferidae) from the Mediterranean coast of Israel. BioInvasions Records 1(2), 105-108.
    View abstract Specimens of Lucifer hanseni Nobili, 1905 were obtained along the Mediterranean coast of Israel between 2008-2011. A single specimen collected in 1924 from Port Said harbour, Egypt, was hitherto the only record of the species in the Mediterranean Sea. The cluster of specimens documented herein suggests the species has recently established a population along the southern Levantine coast.
  • Coppa, S., G.A. De Lucia, G. Massaro and P. Magni. (2012). Density and distribution of Patella ferruginea in a Marine Protected Area (western Sardinia, Italy): Constraint analysis for population conservation. Mediterranean Marine Science 13(1), 108-117.
    View abstract The endemic limpet Patella ferruginea is the most endangered invertebrate in the Mediterranean Sea. Our study examined a population of P. ferruginea in the Marine Protected Area of "Penisola del Sinis - Isola di Mal di Ventre" (western Sardinia, Italy). During the summer 2009, we carried out a systematic census of P. ferruginea along a 8114 m georeferenced perimeter of coast in the "no take-no entry area" to assess its density, spatial distribution, and morphometric characteristics. Our aim was to provide a detailed map of the distribution of P. ferruginea and to investigate the effects of accessibility, wave exposure and slope of the coast on its occurrence. Patella ferruginea showed the lowest mean density ever reported (0.02 ind/m) and a unimodal population structure characterised by fewer females and juveniles. Accessibility had a major negative effect on the occurrence of P. ferruginea. Exposure was also an important factor in influencing its density, size composition and specimen position within the mesolittoral, while the slope had little influence. Morphometric analysis showed the dominance of the Rouxi form, while the Lamarcki form was confined to exposed sites. Our results demonstrate a highly endangered population of P. ferruginea and suggest that human pressure represents the main risk factor.
  • Crocetta, F. and B.S. Galil. (2012). The invasive spotted sea hare Aplysia dactylomela (Mollusca: Gastropoda: Aplysiidae) - new records and spread pattern in the Mediterranean. Vie et Milieu - Life and Environment 62(1), 43-46.
    View abstract Recent and overlooked unpublished records (2005-2011) of the invasive alien sea hare Aplysia dactylomela from Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Malta and Italy are presented. We confirm the presence of established populations in Israel, Malta and the Gulf of Taranto (Italy, Ionian Sea), where hitherto the species was known from single records. In addition, new records from Cosenza and Vibo Valentia provinces point to a spread northwards along the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy. Finally, the possible pathway of introduction to the Mediterranean is discussed taking account of a previously unreported record off Israel.
  • Cucco, A., A. Ribotti, A. Olita, L. Fazioli, B. Sorgente, M. Sinerchia, A. Satta, A. Perilli, M. Borghini, K. Schroeder and R. Sorgente. (2012). Support to oil spill emergencies in the Bonifacio Strait, western Mediterranean. Ocean Sci. 8(4), 443-454. doi:10.5194/os-8-443-2012
    View abstract An innovative forecasting system of the coastal marine circulation has been implemented in the Bonifacio Strait area, between Corsica and Sardinia, using a numerical approach to facilitate the rapid planning and coordination of remedial actions for oil spill emergencies at sea by local authorities. Downscaling and nesting techniques from regional to coastal scale and a 3-D hydrodynamic numerical model, coupled with a wind wave model, are the core of the integrated Bonifacio Strait system. Such a system is capable of predicting operationally the dispersion of hydrocarbon spills in the area, both in forward and backward mode, through an easy-to-use graphical user interface. A set of applications are described and discussed including both operational applications aimed at providing rapid responses to local oil spill emergences and managing applications aimed at mitigating the risk of oil spill impacts on the coast.
  • Cucco, A., M. Sinerchia, C. Le François, P. Magni, M. Ghezzo, G. Umgiesser, A. Perilli and P. Domenici. (2012). A metabolic scope based model of fish response to environmental changes. Ecological Modelling 237-238, 132-141.
    View abstract Eco-physiology studies, performed in laboratory under controlled conditions, provide an essential tool for quantifying the impact of environmental changes on the metabolism and behaviour of individual fish. One way of quantifying such impact is by measuring the Metabolic Scope (MS) of a fish and how it is affected by environmental factors. Laboratory experiments were performed to calculate the empirical mathematical equations describing the variation of the MS of flathead grey mullet, Mugil cephalus, under different environmental conditions (water temperature and water oxygen concentration). The equation obtained was introduced into a coupled hydrodynamic-ecological numerical model able to reproduce the variability of the water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and of the main dissolved nutrients and chlorophyll-a. The coupled empirical-numerical model was used to reproduce the temporal and spatial variation in MS of a M. cephalus fish population in the Oristano gulf and the Cabras lagoon system (Italy), a typical Mediterranean shallow water environment. Results from numerical simulations show that during the spring and the beginning of summer period, Cabras lagoon provides a higher MS for M. cephalus than the Oristano gulf. During the rest of the year, apart from some transitional phases, the gulf provides more suitable conditions (higher MS) for M. cephalus. The obtained results are in general accordance with fisheries data, showing that M. cephalus catches are highest during the end-July to August period, as they migrate out of the lagoon. This approach, combined with observation on the temporal and spatial distribution of fishes, can allow predictions of fish productivity in non-limiting conditions.
  • David, M. and S. Gollasch. (2012). Ballast water treatment systems - a summary. In: B. Werschkun, T. Höfer and M. Greiner, editors. Emerging risks from ballast water treatment. Berlin, Germany: BfR Wissenschaft. p. 23-30.
    View abstract Ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) developed to meet the standards set forth in the Ballast Water Management Convention adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) were summarized here considering existing and developing BWTS. The systems need to be applied in very different settings onboard (e.g. different vessel types, flow rates and waters to be treated) so that fundamentally different BWTS are considered. The most common treatment technologies and basic technical requirements are outlined, also documenting the availability of certified BWTS.
  • Como, S., P. Magni, G. Ven Der Velde, F.S. Blok and M.F.M. Ven De Steeg. (2012). Spatial variations in δ13C and δ15N values of primary consumers in a coastal lagoon. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 115, 300-308.
    View abstract The analysis of the contribution of a food source to a consumer's diet or the trophic position of a consumer is highly sensitive to the variability of the isotopic values used as input data. However, little is known in coastal lagoons about the spatial variations in the isotopic values of primary consumers considered 'end members' in the isotope mixing models for quantifying the diet of secondary consumers or as a baseline for estimating the trophic position of consumers higher up in the food web. We studied the spatial variations in the δ13C and δ15N values of primary consumers and sedimentary organic matter (SOM) within a selected area of the Cabras lagoon (Sardinia, Italy). Our aim was to assess how much of the spatial variation in isotopic values of primary consumers was due to the spatial variability between sites and how much was due to differences in short distances from the shore. Samples were collected at four stations (50-100 m apart) selected randomly at two sites (1.5-2 km apart) chosen randomly at two distances from the shore (i.e. in proximity of the shore - Nearshore - and about 200 m away from the shore e Offshore). The sampling was repeated in March, May and August 2006 using new sites at the two chosen distances from the shore on each date. The isotopic values of size-fractionated seston and macrophytes were also analyzed as a complementary characterization of the study area. While δ15N did not show any spatial variations, the δ13C values of deposit feeders, Alitta Neanthes) succinea, Lekanesphaera hookeri, Hydrobia acuta and Gammarus aequicauda, were more depleted Offshore than Nearshore. For these species, there were significant effects of distance or distance dates in the mean d13C values, irrespective of the intrinsic variation between sites. SOM showed similar spatial variations in δ13C values, with Nearshore-Offshore differences up to 6‰. This indicates that the spatial isotopic changes are transferred from the food sources to the deposit feeders studied. In contrast, δ13C and δ15N values of suspension feeders, Ficopomatus enigmaticus and Amphibalanus amphitrite, did not show major variations, either between sites, or between Nearshore and Offshore. These different patterns between deposit feeders and suspension feeders are probably due to a weaker trophic link of the latter with SOM. We suggest that the Nearshore-Offshore gradient might be an important source of isotopic variation that needs to be considered in future web studies in coastal lagoons.
  • Eero, M. (2012). Reconstructing the population dynamics of sprat (Sprattus sprattus balticus) in the Baltic Sea in the 20th century. ICES Journal of Marine Science: Journal du Conseil 69(6), 1010-1018. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fss051
    View abstract Long time-series of population dynamics are increasingly needed in order to understand human impacts on marine ecosystems and support their sustainable management. In this study, the estimates of sprat (Sprattus sprattus balticus) biomass in the Baltic Sea were extended back from the beginning of ICES stock assessments in 1974 to the early 1900s. The analyses identified peaks in sprat spawner biomass in the beginning of the 1930s, 1960s, and 1970s at 900 kt. Only a half of that biomass was estimated for the late 1930s, for the period from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s, and for the mid-1960s. For the 1900s, fisheries landings suggest a relatively high biomass, similar to the early 1930s. The exploitation rate of sprat was low until the development of pelagic fisheries in the 1960s. Spatially resolved analyses from the 1960s onwards demonstrate changes in the distribution of sprat biomass over time. The average body weight of sprat by age in the 1950s to 1970s was higher than at present, but lower than during the 1980s to 1990s. The results of this study facilitate new analyses of the effects of climate, predation, and anthropogenic drivers on sprat, and contribute to setting long-term management strategies for the Baltic Sea.
  • Hinrichsen, H.-H., K. Hüssy and B. Huwer. (2012). Spatio-temporal variability in western Baltic cod early life stage survival mediated by egg buoyancy, hydrography and hydrodynamics. ICES Journal of Marine Science 69(10), 1744-1752. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fss137
    View abstract To disentangle the effects of different drivers on recruitment variability of marine fish, a spatially and temporally explicit understanding of both the spawning stock size and the early life stage dynamics is required. The objectives of this study are to assess the transport of western Baltic cod early life stages as well as the variability in environmentally-mediated survival along drift routes in relation to both spatial (within and between different spawning areas) and temporal (interannual and seasonal) dynamics. A spatially and temporally highly-resolved biophysical model of the Baltic Sea was used to describe mortalities and survival success of eggs and yolk-sac larvae - represented by individual, virtual drifters - as predicted proportions of drifters that either died due to bottom contact or lethal temperatures, or that survived up to the end of the yolk-sac larval stage. The environmental conditions allowing survival of cod and yolksac larvae indicate that favourable conditions predominately occurred during the late spawning season, while minimum survival rates could be expected from January to March. The spatial analysis of different spawning areas revealed highest survival chances in the Kattegat, intermediate survival in the Great Belt, and only low survival in the Sound, Kiel Bay and Mecklenburg Bay.
  • Hüssy, K., H.-H. Hinrichsen and B. Huwer. (2012). Hydrographic influence on the spawning habitat suitability of western Baltic cod (Gadus morhua). ICES Journal of Marine Science 69(10), 1736-1743. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fss136
    View abstract Recruitment variability of marine fish is influenced by the reproductive potential of the stock (i.e. stock characteristics and abundance) and the survival of early life stages, mediated by environmental conditions of both a physical (water temperature, salinity and oxygen conditions, ocean currents) and a biological nature (i.e. food, predators). The objective of this study is to assess the importance of variability in environmental conditions within different western Baltic cod spawning grounds for egg survival. Habitat identification was based on environmental threshold levels for egg survival and development and ambient hydrographical conditions at different times during the spawning season. The long-term resolution of environmental conditions allowing survival of western Baltic cod eggs indicates that favourable conditions predominantly occurred during the late spawning season in April/May, while minimum survival rates could be expected from January to March. Unsuitable time periods and habitats exhibiting the highest mortality rates are exclusively characterized by ambient water temperatures below the critical survival threshold. Despite the strong influence of water temperature on habitat suitability, the impact of habitat suitability on recruitment was not clearly defined, suggesting that other mechanisms regulate year class strength.
  • Eero, M., M. Lindegren and F.W. Köster. (2012). The state and relative importance of drivers of fish population dynamics: An indicator-based approach. Ecological Indicators 15, 248-252.
    View abstract In a changing environment, the status of individual fish populations and consequently the fishing possibilities can change rapidly, not always for reasons directly related to fisheries. In order to take the ecosystem context into account in the management process and achieve consensus concerning fishing possibilities among stakeholders, it is important that the status of various drivers influencing fish stocks, and their relative impacts are broadly understood. In this paper, we demonstrate how indicators and their aggregation methodologies could assist to achieve this, using the central Baltic Sea as an example. The developed indicator framework provides a quick and visually effective way to track changes in the performance of drivers of fish stock dynamics and communicate the related consequences to a wider audience.
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