For sardine and anchovy, El Nio events do not always have the same effects

The warm El Nio episodes are generally accepted to be harmful to the development of cold-water anchovy populations, but favourable for abundant populations of sardine, adapted to warmer waters. IRD researchers and their Peruvian partners (1) have been studying fluctuations in pelagic fish populations in the world's richest oceanic ecosystems for fish, the Peru-Humboldt Current system, off Peru. They showed that the traditional explanation does not always hold true. During the 1997-98 El Nio event, one of the strongest of the XXth century, anchovy in fact adapted and reproduced by taking advantage of refuge habitat 'loopholes' located very close to the coast. The existence of these areas, with specifically different climatic conditions, appear to have favoured the survival of these populations in spite of generally unfavourable climatic conditions.

Near the coasts of Peru and Chile, the Humboldt Current ecosystem is the world's most productive fishing zone. This cold-current zone, with frequent coastal upwellings ( 2 ), occupies less than 1 % of the world's ocean surface and provides 15 to 20 % of global maritime catches. Unlike other large regions of upwelling, this ecosystem proves to be more exposed to variations in climate. Its geographical location brings it under the direct influence of disturbances generated by the El Nio-La Nia events which arise every 3 to 7 years. Other climatic cycles, called El Viejo-La Vieja by reference to the first two, also bear influence, but on a longer time-scale with a period of about 50 years. Large-scale alternation of abundance of sardine and anchovy populations corresponds to these warm (El Viejo) and cold (La Vieja) climatic regimes. At smaller scale, the El Nio events would induce massive die-offs in anchovy, adapted to cold, nutrient-rich coastal waters, whereas the populations of sardine (and of other species like jack mackerel or mackerel), which live in the warmer waters, would experience an upsurge

Contact: Hlne Deval
Institut de Recherche Pour le Dveloppement

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