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Research article2013Peer reviewedOpen access

Top-Down Regulation, Climate and Multi-Decadal Changes in Coastal Zoobenthos Communities in Two Baltic Sea Areas

Olsson, Jens; Bergström, Lena; Gårdmark, Anna


The structure of many marine ecosystems has changed substantially during recent decades, as a result of overexploitation, climate change and eutrophication. Despite of the apparent ecological and economical importance of coastal areas and communities, this aspect has received relatively little attention in coastal systems. Here we assess the temporal development of zoobenthos communities in two areas on the Swedish Baltic Sea coast during 30 years, and relate their development to changes in climate, eutrophication and top-down regulation from fish. Both communities show substantial structural changes, with a decrease in marine polychaetes and species sensitive to increased water temperatures. Concurrently, opportunistic species tolerant to environmental perturbation have increased in abundance. Species composition show a similar temporal development in both communities and significant changes in species composition occurred in both data sets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The change in species composition was associated with large scale changes in climate (salinity and water temperature) and to the structure of the local fish community, whereas we found no effects of nutrient loading or ambient nutrient concentrations. Our results suggest that these coastal zoobenthos communities have gone through substantial structural changes over the last 30 years, resulting in communities of different species composition with potentially different ecological functions. We hence suggest that the temporal development of coastal zoobenthos communities should be assessed in light of prevailing climatic conditions considering the potential for top-down effects exerted by local fish communities.

Published in

2013, Volume: 8, number: 5, article number: e64767