The Baltic Sea, located in northern Europe, is one of the largest brackish water bodies in the world. Salinity levels range from fresh water conditions in the northeast to full strength saline waters at its transition zone to the North Sea in the west. Most of the water exchange happens in the SW Baltic Sea, the Belt Sea, where fresh water exits the Baltic Sea at the surface, while high saline, oxygen rich water is entering the Baltic at depth. Due to the extended salinity gradient of the Baltic Sea, a variety of species occur at the limit of their physiological tolerance and preference, i.e. in areas and habitats not representing their marine or fresh water origin. Additionally, the Baltic Sea is known for its high share of non-indigenous species, which have established. In this study, we compiled extraordinary sightings of transient, non-native or potentially range expanding species in the SW Baltic Sea for a period from 2001 to 2018. We focused on jellyfish, squid, fishes and marine mammals and linked their occurrences to the local hydrography. Hydrographic conditions, such as water temperature and salinity, were obtained from a high spatio-temporally resolved hydrodynamic Baltic Sea model, covering a daily resolved 40-year time series. We investigated that changes in the occurrence of exceptional species reflect the dynamics of water mass exchange between the Kattegat/Skagerrak and the SW Baltic Sea. Our analyses show that these changes could be related to the presence of anomalously high saline water masses. However, only a minor part of the sightings was caused by major Baltic inflow events, which are important to sustain oxygen rich deep water in the central Baltic Sea. This documents that the hydrographically highly dynamic SW Baltic Sea needs special attention for monitoring of non-indigenous species, as (i) high saline and warm water intrusions are more frequent than currently believed and ii) can be linked to sightings of exceptional species in the SW Baltic Sea. Additionally, most of the recent sightings occurred during anomalously warm periods. This supports the hypothesis, that the Baltic Sea is presently a predominant receiver area for non-indigenous species from warmer regions of the world.
- Non-indigenous species
- Range expansion
- Marine mammals
- Anomalous hydrographic conditions