Roles of discharge and temperature in recruitment of a cold-water fish, the European grayling Thymallus thymallus, near its southern range limit
Recruitment of salmonids is a result of density-dependent factors, specifically egg production in the previous year, and density-independent environmental processes driven by discharge and temperature. With the plethora of knowledge on major drivers of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar and brown trout Salmo trutta recruitment, there is a requirement to explore less known species, such as European grayling Thymallus thymallus, whose postemergence time coincides with period of increasing temperature and low discharge. This study assessed drivers of grayling recruitment in a southern English chalk stream, a system vulnerable to discharge and temperature alterations under future climate change predictions. The analyses explored age 0+ grayling survival in relation to conspecific and heterospecific densities and discharge- and temperature-derived factors. The final mixed-effects model revealed a positive relationship between age 0+ grayling survival and incubation temperature anomaly and age 0+ trout abundance. Similarly, post-incubation temperature anomaly had a positive effect on 0+ grayling survival, but only up to a threshold temperature of 13.5°C, beyond which it had a negative effect. In contrast, increasing number of days with low discharge post-incubation negatively influenced age 0+ grayling survival, with no evidence of an effect of elevated discharges following spawning. Our results emphasise the importance of maintaining natural discharge regimes in salmonid rivers by tackling multiple stressors operating at the catchment scale, including land and water use to mitigate for predicted climate driven changes. In addition, further research on recruitment drivers in less stable, rain-fed systems, is required.