A metacommunity perspective on source–sink dynamics and management: the Baltic Sea as a case study
The degree to which metapopulation processes influence fish stock dynamics is a largely unresolved issue in marine science and management, especially for highly mobile species such as Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and herring (Clupea harengus). The Baltic Sea comprises a heterogeneous oceanographic environment that structures the spatial and temporal distribution of the dominant species cod, herring, and sprat (Sprattus sprattus). Despite local differences, the stocks are traditionally managed as homogeneous units. Here, we present a metacommunity-perspective on source–sink dynamics of Baltic Sea fish stocks by using a spatially disaggregated statistical food web model. The model is fitted to area-specific time series of multiple abiotic and biotic variables using state-space methods. Our analysis reveals pronounced net fluxes between areas, indicative of source–sink dynamics, as well as area-specific differences in species interactions (i.e., density dependence, competition, and predator–prey) and the degree of fishing and climate impact on survival and recruitment. Furthermore, model simulations show that decreasing exploitation pressure in the source area for cod (without reallocating fishing effort) produces an increase in neighboring sink habitats, but a decline of prey species in response to increased predation. Our approach provides valuable insight concerning metacommunity-structuring of marine fish and may serve as an important tool for implementing sustainable management strategies under the ecosystem approach to marine and fisheries management.