What is left? Macrophyte meadows and Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) spawning sites in the Greifswalder Bodden, Baltic Sea
Coastal zones are productive areas of marine ecosystems which are also hotspots of anthropogenic activities causing habitat degradation. In the southwest Baltic Sea, eutrophication is thought to have caused the massive reduction in submerged macrophytes observed in recent decades. Here, we surveyed the submarine vegetation and examined locations of spawning of herring (Clupea harengus) in the Greifswalder Bodden, one of the most important reproductive habitats of the Western Baltic Spring Spawner herring stock (WBSS). This stock deposits eggs onto submerged vegetation and changes in macrophyte coverage are expected to influence the availability of reproductive habitat. Aerial, underwater video tows and SCUBA surveys conducted in spring 2009 revealed that only ~7% of the lagoon was vegetated. Herring eggs were observed on 12 of 32 SCUBA transects, at depths between 0.2 and 5 m and were attached to a variety of spermatophyte and algae species but not to stones or mussels. A classification tree model indicated that spawning sites were strongly associated with the vegetation cover within a 100- and 500-m radius, implying that herring schools preferentially spawn on dense and large underwater meadows. Only ~5% of the lagoon now falls into this vegetation category. Despite 20 years of efforts to reduce eutrophication, no increase in macroalgae and spermatophyte vegetation towards the historical level of 90% coverage in the area is apparent.