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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2014

Nursery habitat availability limits adult stock sizes of predatory coastal fish

Sundblad, Goran; Bergstrom, Ulf; Sandstrom, Alfred; Eklov, Peter


Habitat protection is a strategy often proposed in fisheries management to help maintain viable populations of exploited species. Yet, quantifying the importance of habitat availability for population sizes is difficult, as the precise distribution of essential habitats is poorly known. To quantify the contribution from coastal nursery habitats to exploited fish population sizes, we related adult density to the amount of nursery habitat available for 12 populations of the two dominant predatory fish species in a 40 000-km2 archipelago area of the Baltic Sea. Habitat distribution was mapped using three conceptually different techniques, Maxent, generalized additive models, and random forest, using spawning and 0-group point samples. Adult densities were estimated from gillnet surveys. Regressions demonstrated no evident effect from fishing, whereas habitat availability had a positive effect, explaining almost half of the variation in population sizes of both species. This result shows that a substantial proportion of the potential production of adult fish can be estimated by mapping essential nursery habitats distribution. Responses were non-linear, indicating that habitat protection has largest effects where there is little available habitat. By demonstrating the importance of habitat limitation of two exploited fish species, we provide quantitative support to the benefits of habitat protection for fisheries.


coastal management; conservation; essential fish habitat; fisheries management; generalized additive models; maximum entropy; niche models; random forest; species distribution modelling

Published in

ICES Journal of Marine Science
2014, Volume: 71, number: 3, pages: 672-680