ISSN 0906-7590
DOI 10.1111/ecog.06642

2023 . Article in a Journal

Marcel Montanyès, Benjamin Weigel, Martin Lindegren

Community assembly processes and drivers shaping marine fish community structure in the North Sea

in: Ecography . Volume 2023, Issue 10


To preserve natural ecosystems and their biodiversity, there is a need to anticipate future ecosystem changes through better understanding of underlying drivers and assembly processes determining community composition. Assembly processes can be understood as a set of filters acting at different spatio-temporal scales that jointly define the structure and composition of communities. Here, we explore the underlying assembly processes shaping marine fish species distribution and composition, using the heavily exploited North Sea. Our aims are to study 1) the relative importance of the different assembly processes shaping marine fish communities, 2) the key environmental drivers determining species distributions and composition, and to 3) quantify the role of traits in determining species niches and responses to the environment. Specifically, we fit a joint species distribution model (JSDM) using 31 years of standardized scientific bottom trawl survey data for 67 fish species. We use a set of environmental variables and species’ traits representing morphology, life history, reproduction and diet, while also accounting for phylogenetic relationships of species. Environmental variables, primarily related to temperature, explained over one third of the variance in species occurrence, while spatial effects explained half of the variability across species. This shows that environmental filtering and spatially-structured processes are the main drivers shaping the community assembly. Furthermore, among the total variance of individual species occurrences, 12.5% could be explained by traits, which improve the mechanistic understanding on species responses to environmental change. Hence, model predictions from JSDMs accounting for traits, environmental niches and potential interactions among multiple species can provide relevant simulations and forecasts with the potential to inform spatial management and conservation efforts aiming to preserve biodiversity and its associated services vital for human well-being.