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Increased food availability at offshore wind farms affects trophic ecology of plaice Pleuronectes platessa
Buyse, J.; Hostens, K.; Degraer, S.; De Troch, M.; Wittoeck, J.; De Backer, A. (2023). Increased food availability at offshore wind farms affects trophic ecology of plaice Pleuronectes platessa. Sci. Total Environ. 862: 160730.
In: Science of the Total Environment. Elsevier: Amsterdam. ISSN 0048-9697; e-ISSN 1879-1026, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Pleuronectes platessa Linnaeus, 1758 [WoRMS]
Author keywords
    OWFs; Fish condition; Trophic ecology; North Sea; Artificial reef effect; Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa)

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    Offshore wind farms (OWFs) and their associated cables, foundations and scour protection are often constructed in soft-sediment environments. This introduction of hard substrate has been shown to have similar effects as artificial reefs by providing food resources and offering increased habitat complexity, thereby aggregating fish around the turbines and foundations. However, as most studies have focused their efforts on fish species that are typically associated with reef structures, knowledge on how soft sediment species are affected by OWFs is still largely lacking. In this study, we analysed the trophic ecology and condition of plaice, a flatfish species of commercial interest, in relation to a Belgian OWF. The combination of a stomach and intestine content analysis with the use of biomarkers (i.e. fatty acids and stable isotopes) identified a clear shift in diet with increased occurrences of typical hard-substrate prey species for fish in the vicinity of the foundations and this both on the short and the long term. Despite some condition indices suggesting that the hard substrate provides increased food availability, no clear increases of overall plaice condition or fecundity were found. Samples from within the wind farm, however, contained larger fish and had a higher abundance of females compared to control areas, potentially indicating a refuge effect caused by the cessation of fisheries activities within the OWF. These results suggest that soft-sediment species can potentially benefit from the presence of an OWF, which could lead to fish production. However, more research is still needed to further elucidate the behavioral ecology of plaice within OWFs to make inferences on how they can impact fish populations on a larger spatial scale.

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