Influence of simulated climate change and eutrophication on three-spined stickleback populations: a large scale mesocosm experiment


Rebecca Moran, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, L69 7ZB Liverpool, UK. E-mail:


1. Shallow lakes and their ectothermic inhabitants are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climatic warming. These impacts are likely to depend on nutrient loading, especially if the combination of warming and eutrophication leads to severe hypoxia.

2. To investigate effects of realistic warming and nutrient loading on a fish species with high tolerance of warming and hypoxia, we observed population changes and timing of reproduction of three-spined sticklebacks in 24 outdoor shallow freshwater ecosystems with combinations of temperature (ambient and ambient +4 °C) and three nutrient treatments over 16 months.

3. Warming reduced stickleback population biomass by 60% (population size by 76%) and nutrient-addition reduced biomass by about 80% (population size 95%). Nutrients and warming together resulted in extinction of the stickleback populations. These losses were mainly attributed to the increased likelihood of severe hypoxia in heated and nutrient-addition mesocosms.

4. Warming of nutrient-rich waters can thus have dire consequences for freshwater ectotherm populations. The loss even of a hardy fish suggests a precarious future for many less tolerant species in such eutrophic systems under current climate change predictions.