Storm-induced Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) egg mortality in Baltic Sea inshore spawning areas
During their spring migration, Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) populations in the Baltic Sea rely on shallow transitional waters, such as estuaries, bays, and lagoons for spawning. Such inshore spawning grounds are ecologically important by providing suitable substrates for demersal egg deposition. These habitats are often highly impacted by multiple anthropogenic threats. Decades of eutrophication have caused a decline in depth distribution of submerged aquatic vegetation, the main herring spawning substrate in the Baltic Sea. Nowadays, spawning beds are limited to the shallow littoral zone (≤3 m depth). Accordingly, macrophytes are increasingly exposed to mechanic forcing due to storm-induced wave action. Generally, reproductive success and year class strength of the Western Baltic herring population is strongly determined by the survival of early life stages such as eggs and larvae in local nursery areas. However, explicit mechanisms by which local stressors might affect overall recruitment are currently not well understood. Hypothesizing that aquatic vegetation limited by water depth causes high herring egg mortality due to increased exposure to storm-induced hydrodynamics, we performed a combination of field studies investigating the impact of storm events on herring egg loss. Results of an egg loss experiment revealed a total egg loss of 29% in one single spawning bed during a storm event within the spawning season and the quantification of eggs attached to macrophyte litter on the shoreline emphasize the potential for regional weather extremes such as storm events to act as influential stressors for herring reproduction.