Thermal stratification drives movement of a coastal apex predator

Aspillaga, EnekoBartumeus, Frederic ; Starr, Richard M.López-Sanz, ÀngelLinares, CristinaDíaz, DavidGarrabou, JoaquimZabala, MikelHereu, Bernat.  Scientific Reports 7: 526 (2017)  DIGITAL CSIC

A characterization of the thermal ecology of fishes is needed to better understand changes in ecosystems and species distributions arising from global warming. The movement of wild animals during changing environmental conditions provides essential information to help predict the future thermal response of large marine predators. We used acoustic telemetry to monitor the vertical movement activity of the common dentex (Dentex dentex), a Mediterranean coastal predator, in relation to the oscillations of the seasonal thermocline during two summer periods in the Medes Islands marine reserve (NW Mediterranean Sea). During the summer stratification period, the common dentex presented a clear preference for the warm suprathermoclinal layer, and adjusted their vertical movements following the depth changes of the thermocline. The same preference was also observed during the night, when fish were less active. Due to this behaviour, we hypothesize that inter-annual thermal oscillations and the predicted lengthening of summer conditions will have a significant positive impact on the metabolic efficiency, activity levels, and population dynamics of this species, particularly in its northern limit of distribution. These changes in the dynamics of an ecosystem’s keystone predator might cascade down to lower trophic levels, potentially re-defining the coastal fish communities of the future.