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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

A spatial regime shift from predator to prey dominance in a large coastal ecosystem

Eklof, Johan S.; Sundblad, Goran; Erlandsson, Marten; Donadi, Serena; Hansen, Joakim P.; Eriksson, Britas Klemens; Bergstrom, Ulf;

Abstract

Regime shifts in ecosystem structure and processes are typically studied from a temporal perspective. Yet, theory predicts that in large ecosystems with environmental gradients, shifts should start locally and gradually spread through space. Here we empirically document a spatially propagating shift in the trophic structure of a large aquatic ecosystem, from dominance of large predatory fish (perch, pike) to the small prey fish, the three-spined stickleback. Fish surveys in 486 shallow bays along the 1200 km western Baltic Sea coast during 1979-2017 show that the shift started in wave-exposed archipelago areas near the open sea, but gradually spread towards the wave-sheltered mainland coast. Ecosystem surveys in 32 bays in 2014 show that stickleback predation on juvenile predators (predator-prey reversal) generates a feedback mechanism that appears to reinforce the shift. In summary, managers must account for spatial heterogeneity and dispersal to better predict, detect and confront regime shifts within large ecosystems.Eklof et al. report a spatially propagating shift in the trophic structure along the western Baltic Sea coast. The authors use fish surveys from 1979-2017 to show a shift from dominance of large predatory fish to the small prey fish, the three-spined stickleback, starting in wave-exposed areas and gradually moving to the wave-sheltered coast.

Published in

Communications biology

2020, volume: 3, number: 1, article number: 459
Publisher: NATURE PUBLISHING GROUP

Authors' information

Eklof, Johan S.
Stockholm University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources
Stockholm University
Hansen, Joakim P.
Stockholm University
Eriksson, Britas Klemens
University of Groningen
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Resources

Associated SLU-program

Coastal and sea areas

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG14 Life below water

UKÄ Subject classification

Ecology

Publication Identifiers

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-020-01180-0

URI (permanent link to this page)

https://res.slu.se/id/publ/108159