Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Review article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Increases of opportunistic species in response to ecosystem change: the case of the Baltic Sea three-spined stickleback

Olin, Agnes B.; Olsson, Jens; Eklof, Johan S.; Eriksson, Britas Klemens; Kaljuste, Olavi; Briekmane, Laura; Bergström, Ulf


Under rapid environmental change, opportunistic species may exhibit dramatic increases in response to the altered conditions, and can in turn have large impacts on the ecosystem. One such species is the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), which has shown substantial increases in several aquatic systems in recent decades. Here, we review the population development of the stickleback in the Baltic Sea, a large brackish water ecosystem subject to rapid environmental change. Current evidence points to predatory release being the central driver of the population increases observed in some areas, while both eutrophication and climate change have likely contributed to creating more favourable conditions for the stickleback. The increasing stickleback densities have had profound effects on coastal ecosystem function by impairing the recruitment of piscivorous fish and enhancing the effects of eutrophication through promoting the production of filamentous algae. The increase poses a challenge for both environmental management and fisheries, where a substantial interest from the pelagic fisheries fleet in exploiting the species calls for urgent attention. While significant knowledge gaps remain, we suggest that the case of the Baltic Sea stickleback increase provides generalisable lessons of value for understanding and managing other coastal ecosystems under rapid change.


cross-system coupling; mesopredatory fish; mesopredator release; predator-prey reversal; top-down cascade

Published in

ICES Journal of Marine Science
2022, Volume: 79, number: 5, pages: 1419-1434