Use of food web knowledge in environmental conservation and management of living resources in the Baltic Sea

Margit Eero, Jan Dierking, Christoph Humborg, Emma Undeman, Brian R. MacKenzie, Henn Ojaveer, Tiina Salo, Friedrich Wilhelm Köster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Food webs are central entities mediating processes and external pressures in marine ecosystems. They are essential to understand and predict ecosystem dynamics and provision of ecosystem services. Paradoxically, utilization of food web knowledge in marine environmental conservation and resource management is limited. To better understand the use of knowledge and barriers to incorporation in management, we assess its application related to the management of eutrophication, chemical contamination, fish stocks, and non-indigenous species. We focus on the Baltic, a severely impacted, but also intensely studied and actively managed semi-enclosed sea. Our assessment shows food web processes playing a central role in all four areas, but application varies strongly, from formalized integration in management decisions, to support in selecting indicators and setting threshold values, to informal knowledge explaining ecosystem dynamics and management performance. Barriers for integration are complexity of involved ecological processes and that management frameworks are not designed to handle such information. We provide a categorization of the multi-faceted uses of food web knowledge and benefits of future incorporation in management, especially moving towards ecosystem-based approaches as guiding principle in present marine policies and directives. We close with perspectives on research needs to support this move considering global and regional change.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfsab145
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)2645-2663
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Chemical contamination
  • Ecosystem approach
  • Environmental conservation
  • Eutrophication
  • Fisheries management
  • Food web
  • Living resources
  • Non-indigenous species


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