Marine Biology

, 165:18 | Cite as

Variations in tolerance to climate change in a key littoral herbivore

  • Luca Rugiu
  • Iita Manninen
  • Joakim Sjöroos
  • Veijo Jormalainen
Original paper


Changes in global climate patterns are affecting marine ecosystems, challenging species’ environmental tolerances, and driving shifts in their distributions. In the Baltic Sea, a brackish water body with low biodiversity, the isopod Idotea balthica is a key herbivore species that has a strong top–down effect on habitat-forming macrophytes. Our aim is to understand how the predicted future combination of hyposalinity and warming will affect the survival of this mesograzer throughout the Baltic Sea. By conducting a manipulative aquarium experiment, we simulated future conditions and measured the survival, at different spatial scales, of replicated populations from the entrance, central, and marginal Baltic Sea regions. Overall, the survival rate was strongly affected by the predicted future combination of hyposalinity and warming, but the intensity of the impact varied both among and within regions. Populations from the marginal Baltic Sea responded negatively to climate change. Populations within the entrance varied in their survival responses, with the geographic variation suggesting the existence of spatially distributed genetic variation in tolerance to climate change. In summary, the future combination of hyposalinity and warming is likely to induce a southward shift in the distribution of I. balthica in the northeast marginal region of the Baltic Sea. However, the geographic variation in tolerance shown by the entrance populations indicates that, for this Baltic region, the species may contain the potential for future adaptive responses in tolerance to climate change.



We thank S. Mikkonen, K. Riipinen, and E. Rothäusler for valuable assistance during sampling and laboratory work. We are also thankful to the Archipelago Research Institute of the University of Turku for the use of their facilities and logistical help.

Author contributions

VJ, LR and IM conceived and designed the experiment. LR, IM and JS performed the experiment. LR and IM analysed the data. LR led the writing of the manuscript; all authors contributed to the text.

Compliance with ethical standard


This study was funded by BONUS, the EU joint Baltic Sea research and development programme, Project BAMBI and the Academy of Finland Grant decision number 273623.

Conflict of interest

all authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

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