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Food-chain length alters community responses to global change in aquatic systems

  • Lars-Anders Hansson
  • Alice Nicolle
  • Wilhelm Granéli
  • Per Hallgren
  • Emma Kritzberg
  • Anders Persson
  • Jessica Bjork
  • Anders Nilsson
  • Christer Brönmark
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Pages: 228-233
Publication/Series: Nature Climate Change
Volume: 3
Issue: 3
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Nature Research

Abstract english

Synergies between large-scale environmental changes, such as climate change(1) and increased humic content (brownification)(2), will have a considerable impact on future aquatic ecosystems. On the basis of modelling, monitoring and experimental data, we demonstrate that community responses to global change are determined by food-chain length and that the top trophic level, and every second level below, will benefit from climate change, whereas the levels in between will suffer. Hence, phytoplankton, and thereby algal blooms, will benefit from climate change in three-, but not in two-trophic-level systems. Moreover, we show that both phytoplankton (resource) and zooplankton (consumer) advance their spring peak abundances similarly in response to a 3 degrees C temperature increase; that is, there is no support for a consumer/resource mismatch in a future climate scenario. However, in contrast to other taxa, cyanobacteria-known as toxin-producing nuisance phytoplankton(3)-benefit from a higher temperature and humic content irrespective of the food-chain composition. Our results are mirrored in natural ecosystems. By mechanistically merging present food-chain theory with large-scale environmental and climate changes, we provide a powerful framework for predicting and understanding future aquatic ecosystems and their provision of ecosystem services and water resources.


  • Ecology


  • Centre for Animal Movement Research
  • ISSN: 1758-6798
Anders Nilsson
E-mail: anders [dot] nilsson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Aquatic ecology

+46 46 222 83 65

+46 70 346 25 66



Research group

Aquatic Ecology


Doctoral students and postdocs

Main supervisor

Varpu Pärssinen

Assistant supervisor

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