Mechanistic insights into the effects of climate change on larval cod

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Abstract

Understanding the biophysical mechanisms that shape variability in fisheries recruitment is critical for estimating the effects of climate change on fisheries. In this study, we used an Earth System Model (ESM) and a mechanistic individual-based model (IBM) for larval fish to analyze how climate change may impact the growth and survival of larval cod in the North Atlantic. We focused our analysis on five regions that span the current geographical range of cod and are known to contain important spawning populations. Under the SRES A2 (high emissions) scenario, the ESM-projected surface ocean temperatures are expected to increase by >1 °C for 3 of the 5 regions, and stratification is expected to increase at all sites between 1950–1999 and 2050–2099. This enhanced stratification is projected to decrease large (>5 μm ESD) phytoplankton productivity and mesozooplankton biomass at all 5 sites. Higher temperatures are projected to increase larval metabolic costs, which combined with decreased food resources will reduce larval weight, increase the probability of larvae dying from starvation and increase larval exposure to visual and invertebrate predators at most sites. If current concentrations of piscivore and invertebrate predators are maintained, larval survival is projected to decrease at all five sites by 2050–2099. In contrast to past observed responses to climate variability in which warm anomalies led to better recruitment in cold-water stocks, our simulations indicated that reduced prey availability under climate change may cause a reduction in larval survival despite higher temperatures in these regions. In the lower prey environment projected under climate change, higher metabolic costs due to higher temperatures outweigh the advantages of higher growth potential, leading to negative effects on northern cod stocks. Our results provide an important first large-scale assessment of the impacts of climate change on larval cod in the North Atlantic.

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