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

Johan S. Eklöf, Göran Sundblad, Mårten Erlandsson, Serena Donadi, Joakim P. Hansen, Britas Klemens Eriksson, Ulf Bergström

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55 Citations (Scopus)
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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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number459
Number of pages9
JournalCommunications biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27-Aug-2020


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