Despite their importance for species conservation and sound management of exploited living resources, the density-dependent mechanisms that regulate wild populations are among the least understood process in ecology. In many marine fish species, there is strong evidence that regulation occurs at the juvenile stage, when individuals concentrate in spatially restricted nurseries. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms. Whether competition for food resources determines fish growth and survival is particularly controversial. We investigated whether food supply may have limited juvenile fish production (integrating both growth and survival) in a coastal and estuarine nursery in western Europe. Using a recent bioenergetics-based approach, we calculated annual macrobenthic food production (FP) and annual food consumption (FC) by juvenile fish and predatory invertebrates for three consecutive years (2008–2010). We also calculated exploitation efficiency (FC:FP) and used it as an index of food limitation. Results revealed substantial interannual variations in FP (FP ~2–3 times higher in 2008 and 2010 than in 2009). FC by young-of-the-year fish followed a fairly similar pattern. In addition, predatory invertebrates consumed as much food as juvenile fish, highlighting the need to consider all dominant epibenthic predators when estimating the overall predation pressure on macrobenthic prey. Lastly, exploitation efficiency of the entire epibenthic predator community reached ~30% in 2009, which is relatively high despite the conservative modeling approach. Overall, these results suggest that food supply may have limited juvenile fish production during the study period, at least in 2009. Nonetheless, further studies based on longer time-series and/or other study sites are required to strengthen these findings.

Full Text
Published version (Free)

Talk to us

Join us for a 30 min session where you can share your feedback and ask us any queries you have

Schedule a call