Impact of spawning substrate complexity on egg survival of Atlantic Herring (Clupea harengus, L.) in the Baltic Sea
Shallow shore zones are generally considered to provide juvenile habitats for many invertebrate and fish species and additionally serve as spawning grounds for important components of oceanic food webs and fishery resources such as herring (Clupea spp.). Herring attach their demersal eggs to benthic substrates, rendering reproduction success vulnerable to environmental changes and local habitat alterations. However, little information is available on the effects of different substrates on the survival of demersal eggs. Hypothesizing that the structural complexity of spawning substrates generally affects herring egg survival and that the effect magnitude depends on the suitability of ambient environment, field experiments were conducted on a major spawning ground of C. harengus in the Southwestern Baltic Sea. Herring eggs were artificially spawned on substrates of different structural complexities and incubated in situ under differing temperature regimes, at the beginning and the end of the natural herring spawning season, to include the full suite of stressors occurring on littoral spawning beds. Results of this study indicate a positive relation between high structural complexity of spawning substrates and herring egg survival. Mean egg mortality was three times higher on substrates of lowest complexity than on highly complex substrates. These differences became even more prominent under unfavorable conditions that appeared with rising water temperatures later in the spawning season. Although the mechanisms are still unclear, we conclude that structural complexity, particularly formed by submerged aquatic vegetation, provides a crucial prerequisite for the successful reproduction of substrate spawning marine fishes such as herring in the Baltic Sea.