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Ecology and Distribution of the Isopod Genus Idotea in the Baltic Sea: Key Species in a Changing Environment

Journal article
Authors Sonja Leidenberger
Karin C. Harding
Per R. Jonsson
Published in Journal of Crustacean Biology
Volume 32
Issue 3
Pages 359-381
ISSN 0278-0372
Publication year 2012
Published at Linnaeus Centre for Marine Evolutionary Biology (CEMEB)
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Tjärnö Marine Biological Laboratory
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 359-381
Language en
Keywords Baltic Sea, distribution patterns, environmental changes, Idotea, key species, alga fucus-vesiculosus, bloom-forming macroalgae, zostera-marina, community structure, color polymorphism, trophic interactions, microhabitat choice, nutrient enrichment, feeding preferences, relative, importance
Subject categories Marine ecology


Marine isopods of the genus Idotea [I. balthica (Pallas, 1772), I. chelipes (Pallas, 1766), and I. granulosa Rathke, 1843] are common meso-grazers that enter deep into the Baltic Sea and here appear to live at their physiological limit, determined by salinity and temperature tolerance. We review available data on distribution and community ecology to assess the functional role of Idotea in the Baltic Sea and how global change may affect essential ecological interactions. Data from the last 150 years suggest an on-going shift southward for I. chelipes and I. granulosa that may be caused by a changing climate. Several studies report local extinctions and mass abundances, which may be caused by a changing food web from over-fishing and eutrophication. The three species of Idotea have clear habitat segregation in the Baltic Sea, where salinity, temperature and vegetation are the main dimensions. Idotea spp. have a central role as grazers and in communities dominated by the perennial macrophytes Fucus spp. and Zostera marina and attain impressive feeding rates on a range of epiphytes/filamentous algae (top-down effect). Idotea can have both a direct negative grazing effect on macrophytes but also an indirect positive effect by removing epiphytes. The relative role of nutritional value and chemical defence for food preference is yet unclear for Idotea. Baltic idoteids are also important prey for several fish (bottom-up effect) and fish predation may have increased following overfishing of piscivorous fish. It is concluded that Idotea is a key taxon in the Baltic Sea food web, where guilds often contain few dominant species. Changes in population dynamics of Idotea, as a function of human generated global change, may have large-scale consequences for ecosystem functions in a future Baltic Sea, e.g. the extent of vegetation cover in the coastal zone.

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