Spatial and seasonal variability in reproductive investment of Baltic sprat
Fecundity of marine fish species is highly variable, but trade-offs between fecundity and egg quality have rarely been observed at the individual level. We investigated spatial differences in reproductive investment of individual European sprat Sprattus sprattus (Linnaeus 1758) females by determining batch fecundity, condition indices (somatic condition index and gonadosomatic index) as well as oocyte dry weight, protein content, lipid content, spawning batch energy content, and fatty acid composition. Sampling was conducted in five different spawning areas within the Baltic Sea between March and May 2012. Spawning sprat from the Kiel Bight were in a better nutritional condition compared to sprat from the Arkona Basin, Bornholm Basin, and the Gdansk Deep. These females were also producing up to twice as many oocytes, and invested significantly more energy in reproduction, than their counterparts sampled in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea. Still, oocytes produced by Kiel Bight sprat contained significantly lower fractions of the essential fatty acids 20:4 (n-6) and 22:6 (n-3). A seasonal trade-off between oocyte weight/lipid content and fecundity was found for Baltic sprat, albeit the gross energy invested into spawning remained constant. Observed spatial and seasonal differences in sprat reproductive investment may be linked to hydrographic conditions and food availability and will impact the survival probability of yolk-sac and first feeding larvae. These findings indicate that Baltic sprat is able to adapt its reproductive tactics to the highly variable pelagic habitat of the Baltic Sea.