Multiple forces drive the Baltic Sea food web dynamics and its response to environmental change

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University

Abstract: Understanding the interaction of multiple drivers and their compounded effects on ecosystem dynamics is a key challenge for marine resource management. The Baltic Sea is one of the world’s seas most strongly impacted by effects from both human activities and climate. In the late 1980’s changes in climate in combination with intensive fishing initiated a reorganization of the Central Baltic Sea (CBS) food web resulting in the current sprat-dominated state. In the future, climate change is projected to cause drastic changes in hydrodynamic conditions of the world oceans in general, and the Baltic Sea in particular.  In this thesis, CBS food web responses to the combined effects of fishing, nutrient loads and climate were tested for the past (1974-2006) and projected into the future (2010-2098). A new food web model for the CBS (BaltProWeb) was developed using extensive monitoring data across trophic levels. This model described the past food web dynamics well, and was hence also used for future (2010-2098) projections. Different ensemble modeling approaches were employed when testing the food web response to future scenarios.The results show that regardless the climate change, the management of nutrient loads and cod fishing are likely to determine the food web dynamics and trophic control mechanisms in the future Baltic Sea. Consequently, the variation in the food web projections was large, ranging from a strongly eutrophied and sprat-dominated to a cod-dominated CBS with eutrophication levels close to today’s values. The results also suggest a potential risk of abrupt ecosystem changes in the future CBS, particularly if the nutrient loads are not reduced. Finally, the studies illustrate the usefulness of the ensemble modeling approach, both from the perspective of ecosystem-based management as well as for studying the importance of different mechanisms in the ecosystem response.