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Habitat associations of Atlantic herring in the Shetland area: influence of spatial scale and geographic segmentation

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This study considers the habitat associations of a pelagic species with a range of biotic and abiotic factors at three different spatial scales. Generalized additive models (GAM) are used to analyse trends in the distributional abundance of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) in relation to thermocline and water depth, seabed roughness and hardness, sea surface salinity and temperature, zooplankton abundance and spatial location. Two geographical segments of the population, those east and west of the Shetland Islands (northern North Sea, ICES Div IVa), are examined. The differences in the ecological preferences of the species in these two distinct geographical areas are elucidated and the degree that these environmental relationships might be modulated by the change of support of the data is also considered. Part of the observed variability of the pre-spawning distribution of herring was explained by different parameters in these two regions. Notwithstanding this, key determinants of the species’ spatial aggregation in both areas were zooplankton abundance and the nature of the seabed substrate. The relative importance of the variables examined did not change significantly at different spatial scales of the observation window. The diverse significance of various environmental factors on herring distribution was attributed mainly to the interaction of species’ dynamics with the different characteristics of the ecosystem, east and west of the Shetland Islands. Results suggest that the current 2.5 nautical miles as elementary sampling distance unit (ESDU) is a reasonable sampling scheme that combines the need to reduce the data volume while maintaining spatial resolution to distinguish the species/environment relationships.

Keywords: Clupea harengus; Generalized Additive Models; North Sea; RoxAnn; environment; pelagic; sampling; substrate

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Zoology, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen, AB24 3TZ, Scotland, UK and Marine Laboratory, PO Box 101, Victoria Road, Aberdeen AB11 9DB, Scotland, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2001


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