Climate change alters the structure of arctic marine food webs due to poleward shifts of boreal generalists

Susanne Kortsch, Raul Primicerio, Maria Fossheim, Andrey V. Dolgov, Michaela Aschan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

299 Citations (Scopus)


Climate-driven poleward shifts, leading to changes in species composition and relative abundances, have been recently documented in the Arctic. Among the fastest moving species are boreal generalist fish which are expected to affect arctic marine food web structure and ecosystem functioning substantially. Here, we address structural changes at the food web level induced by poleward shifts via topological network analysis of highly resolved boreal and arctic food webs of the Barents Sea. We detected considerable differences in structural properties and link configuration between the boreal and the arctic food webs, the latter being more modular and less connected. We found that a main characteristic of the boreal fish moving poleward into the arctic region of the Barents Sea is high generalism, a property that increases connectance and reduces modularity in the arctic marine food web. Our results reveal that habitats form natural boundaries for food web modules, and that generalists play an important functional role in coupling pelagic and benthic modules. We posit that these habitat couplers have the potential to promote the transfer of energy and matter between habitats, but also the spread of pertubations, thereby changing arctic marine food web structure considerably with implications for ecosystem dynamics and functioning.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)31–39
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • fish community
  • network structure
  • food web topology
  • biogeography
  • Climate warming
  • modularity

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