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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Larger but younger fish when growth outpaces mortality in heated ecosystem

Lindmark, Max; Karlsson, Malin; Gårdmark, Anna


Ectotherms are predicted to 'shrink' with global warming, in line with general growth models and the temperature-size rule (TSR), both predicting smaller adult sizes with warming. However, they also predict faster juvenile growth rates and thus larger size-at-age of young organisms. Hence, the result of warming on the size-structure of a population depends on the interplay between how mortality rate, juvenile- and adult growth rates are affected by warming. Here, we use two-decade long time series of biological samples from a unique enclosed bay heated by cooling water from a nearby nuclear power plant to become 5-10 degrees C warmer than its reference area. We used growth-increment biochronologies (12,658 reconstructed length-at-age estimates from 2426 individuals) to quantify how >20 years of warming has affected body growth, size-at-age, and catch to quantify mortality rates and population size- and age structure of Eurasian perch (Perca fluviatilis). In the heated area, growth rates were faster for all sizes, and hence size-at-age was larger for all ages, compared to the reference area. While mortality rates were also higher (lowering mean age by 0.4 years), the faster growth rates lead to a 2 cm larger mean size in the heated area. Differences in the size-spectrum exponent (describing how the abundance declines with size) were less clear statistically. Our analyses reveal that mortality, in addition to plastic growth and size-responses, is a key factor determining the size structure of populations exposed to warming. Understanding the mechanisms by which warming affects the size- and the age structure of populations is critical for predicting the impacts of climate change on ecological functions, interactions, and dynamics.


Perca fluviatilis; body growth; size; size-spectrum; mortality; climate change

Published in

2023, Volume: 12, article number: e82996