SUMMARY 1. Higher than average ambient water temperature in the first year of life may be responsible for strong cohorts of adult cyprinid fish. Whilst temperature explains much of the variation in year-class strength (YCS), however, it is not the only influential factor as high temperature does not inevitably yield strong year-classes. Furthermore, years in which a strong year-class is prevalent in one species do not necessarily result in strong year-classes in other coexisting species, suggesting other biotic and abiotic factors are important in regulating recruitment success.
2. The relationships between water temperature, river discharge, the position of the Gulf Stream, 0-group fish growth and recruitment success (YCS) were examined in three cyprinid fish species in an English lowland river, using a 15-year data set.
3. Mean length of 0-group fish at the end of the summer was positively correlated with water temperature (cumulative degree-days >12 °C) and negatively correlated with river discharge (cumulative discharge-days above basal discharge rate). Water temperature was negatively correlated with river discharge.
4. YCS was positively correlated with mean 0-group fish length at the end of the summer and with the position of the North Wall of the Gulf Stream.
5. ’Critical periods’ (i.e. periods in the first summer of life when fish may be more susceptible to increases in river discharge) were difficult to discern because of interannual variations in river discharge relative to the timing of fish hatching. YCS of roach and chub was most strongly correlated with discharge in the period from June to September inclusive, while YCS of dace was most significantly correlated with discharge in August.
6. River discharge (rather than water temperature) may be the key factor in determining YCS, either directly (through discharge-induced mortality) or indirectly (via reduced growth at lower water temperatures, discharge-associated increases in energy expenditure or reduced food availability). It could be that, in effect, water temperature determines potential YCS while discharge determines realised YCS.