Understanding responses of marine species to temperature variability is essential to predict impacts of future climate change in the oceans. Most ectotherms are expected to adjust their behavior to avoid extreme temperatures and minimize acute changes in body temperature. However, measuring such behavioral plasticity in the wild is challenging. Combining 4 years of telemetry-derived behavioral data on juvenile and adult (30–80 cm) Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), and in situ ocean temperature measurements, we found a significant effect of sea temperature on cod depth use and activity level in coastal Skagerrak. During summer, cod were found in deeper waters when sea surface temperature increased. Further, this effect of temperature was stronger on larger cod. Diel vertical migration, which consists in a nighttime rise to shallow feeding habitats, was stronger among smaller cod. As surface temperature increased beyond ~15°C, their vertical migration was limited to deeper waters. In addition to larger diel vertical migrations, smaller cod were more active and travelled larger distances compared to larger specimens. Cold temperatures during winter tended, however, to reduce the magnitude of diel vertical migrations, as well as the activity level and distance moved by those smaller individuals. Our findings suggest that future and ongoing rises in sea surface temperature may increasingly deprive cod in this region from shallow feeding areas during summer, which may be detrimental for local populations of the species.
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