Anchovy population expansion in the North Sea
The abundance and spatial occupation of European anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus have increased in the North Sea since the mid-1990s. We use a cross-disciplinary approach combining genetics, transport modelling, survey time series analyses and physical oceanographic modelling to investigate 3 hypotheses on the reasons for this change. Evidence from connectivity studies suggests that the population of North Sea anchovy is separate from that in the Bay of Biscay. The recruitment pulses observed in survey data fit a life cycle which includes spawning in early summer and larval development in late summer. This also supports the concept of population expansion originating from local remnant population(s). In terms of growth physiology, suitable thermal windows have expanded, making conditions more favourable for life cycle closure and population persistence/productivity. In addition to the increased frequency of warm summers, which favour larvae and juvenile growth, the decrease in the number of severe winters is also likely to improve overwinter survival. Overall, the evidence supports the hypothesis that the increase in anchovy abundance originated from the improved productivity of existing populations. This increase was associated with an expansion in thermal habitats and is probably not due to a northward shift in the distribution of southern conspecifics.