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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Ontogenetic movement and larval survival in North Sea Herring: A stable isotope approach

Currently Active: 

Atlantic herring are commercially important to the UK fishing industry. Their feeding grounds vary over time, influenced by sea surface temperature, abundance of copepod prey, stock structure and potentially population density. Tracking their movements (and hence feeding areas) is necessary in order to monitor shifts in feeding location in relation to changing climatic variables. Furthermore, larval condition and survival is generally difficult to assess on an annual basis. If known, this would provide a robust method of prediction of future recruitment success of the stock.

Fig 1 (Source: Jennings et al 2008)
Fig 1 (Source: Jennings et al 2008)

Why use isotopes?

Significant spatial variation in nitrogen isotopes in food webs within the North Sea area exist. These differences will be transferred to the isotopic composition of herring muscle tissue and may mask expected trophic level changes. Hence, δ15N values may be used as a geolocator, identifying the ecosystem areas in which the animals fed (Fig.2.). Furthermore, by comparing the isotopic composition (degree of fractionation) of essential and non-essential amino acids of herring larvae, it will be possible to determine their level of feeding/starvation.



Fig 2 (Source: K MacKenzie)
Fig 2 (Source: K MacKenzie)

Scientific Aims

  1. Using stable isotope analysis, track the ontogenetic movements of herring within the North sea.
  2. Identify feeding grounds of herring and assess changes in these tentative feeding grounds in relation to environmental variables.
  3. Use compound-specific amino acid stable isotope analysis to investigate starvation in herring larvae and relate these to specific environmental conditions for recruitment predictions and stock management.


This project is funded by Defra project SF0260

Key Contacts

Dr. Craig Longmore, Dr. Clive Trueman

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Geochemical Ecology

Related research groups


Key Publications

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