Effects of Altered Offshore Food Webs on Coastal Ecosystems Emphasize the Need for Cross-Ecosystem Management

Abstract

By mainly targeting larger predatory fish, commercial fisheries have indirectly promoted rapid increases in densities of their prey; smaller predatory fish like sprat, stickleback and gobies. This process, known as mesopredator release, has effectively transformed many marine offshore basins into mesopredator-dominated ecosystems. In this article, we discuss recent indications of trophic cascades on the Atlantic and Baltic coasts of Sweden, where increased abundances of mesopredatory fish are linked to increased nearshore production and biomass of ephemeral algae. Based on synthesis of monitoring data, we suggest that offshore exploitation of larger predatory fish has contributed to the increase in mesopredator fish also along the coasts, with indirect negative effects on important benthic habitats and coastal water quality. The results emphasize the need to rebuild offshore and coastal populations of larger predatory fish to levels where they regain their control over lower trophic levels and important links between offshore and coastal systems are restored.

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Acknowledgments

Johan S. Eklöf was funded by FORMAS (grants no. 2008-839 and 2009-1086). The contribution of Jens Olsson, Michele Casini, and Ulf Bergström was made within the PLAN FISH project funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Thanks to Han Olff and Helmut Hillebrand for inspiring discussions about cross ecosystem and predator removal effects, to Gustav Johansson for artwork and to Per Olov Moksnes and an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Britas Klemens Eriksson.

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Eriksson, B.K., Sieben, K., Eklöf, J. et al. Effects of Altered Offshore Food Webs on Coastal Ecosystems Emphasize the Need for Cross-Ecosystem Management. AMBIO 40, 786 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-011-0158-0

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Keywords

  • Mesopredator release
  • Human transformation
  • Commercial fisheries
  • Cod
  • Baltic Sea
  • Swedish coast