Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 November 2014
This paper analyses the population dynamics, growth and feeding ecology of Dicentrarchus labrax in order to gain a better understanding of its present role in the western Dutch Wadden Sea ecosystem. Otolith analysis showed that the population is mostly comprised of individuals aged 3–5 years old and between 20 and 45 cm in length. In autumn, 0-group juveniles are also an important part of the population. Both juveniles and adults use the area as a feeding ground exhibiting an opportunistic feeding strategy that relies on available prey, especially the brown shrimp Crangon crangon. Stomach content analysis and nitrogen stable isotope analysis showed an ontogenetic shift towards piscivory and a general decrease in the dominance of invertebrates with increasing size. Over the last 50 years, large between-year fluctuations in D. labrax abundance have been observed with an underlying increasing trend from about 1990 until 2007 followed by a subsequent decline. Spring abundance showed significant relationships with temperature and salinity while autumn abundance was only related to temperature. Spring and autumn D. labrax abundance were also strongly related to abundance of brown shrimp C. crangon prey. Long-term trends in temperature and salinity in the area suggest that environmental conditions for juvenile growth have become optimal, resulting in increased abundance since the mid-1980s. Continued monitoring of the dynamics of this species in the Dutch Wadden Sea is important to understand and anticipate the effects of climate change on the D. labrax population and its role in the local food web.