Current and Future Influence of Environmental Factors on Small Pelagic Fish Distributions in the Northwestern Mediterranean Sea
In the Northwestern Mediterranean Sea, the European sardine (Sardina pilchardus) and the European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) are the most important small pelagic fish in terms of biomass and commercial interest. During the last years, these species have experimented changes in their abundance and biomass trends in the Northwestern Mediterranean Sea, in addition to changes in growth, reproduction and body condition. These species are particularly sensitive to environmental fluctuations with possible cascading effects as they play a key role in connecting the lower and upper trophic levels of marine food webs. It is therefore essential to understand the factors that most profoundly affect sardine and anchovy dynamics. This study used a two-step approach to understand how the environment influences the adult stages of these species in the Northwestern Mediterranean Sea. First, we explored the effects of environmental change over time using Random Forests and available datasets of species occurrence, abundance, biomass and landings. We then applied species distribution models to test the impact of the extreme pessimistic and optimistic Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pathway scenarios, and to identify possible climate refuges: areas where these species may be able to persist under future environmental change. Findings from the temporal modeling showed mixed effects between environmental variables and for anchovy and sardine datasets. Future pathway projections highlight that both anchovy and sardine will undergo a reduction in their spatial distributions due to future climate conditions. The future climate refuges are the waters around the Rhone River (France) and the Ebro River (Spain) for both species. This study also highlights important knowledge gaps in our understanding of the dynamics of small pelagic fish in the region, which is needed to progress towards an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.