Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Ecological resilience of Arctic marine food webs to climate change


How real-world marine food webs absorb change, recover and adapt (that is, ecological resilience) to climate change remains problematic. Here we apply a novel approach to show how the complex changes in resilience of food webs can be understood with a small core set of self-organizing configurations that represent different simultaneously nested and multiple-species interactions. We identified a recent emergent pattern of an improving but possibly short-lived resilience of a highly observed Arctic marine food web (2004–2016), considered a harbinger of future Arctic change. The changes can be explained by continuing subsidiary inputs of Atlantic species that repair (self-organize) interactions within some configurations. Despite significant environmental perturbation, we found that the core ecological processes are maintained. We conclude that Arctic marine food webs can absorb and begin to adapt to ongoing climate change.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Conceptual framework of ecological resilience.
Fig. 2: Core configurations of each observed food web.
Fig. 3: System-wide ecological resilience.
Fig. 4: Local resilience.

Data availability

The data used during the study are available at the Norwegian Polar Data Centre or are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Code availability

The software code for the ERGM models is available from and


  1. 1.

    Hagstrom, G. I. & Levin, S. A. Marine ecosystems as complex adaptive systems: emergent patterns, critical transitions, and public goods. Ecosystems 20, 458–476 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Box, J. E. Key indicators of Arctic climate change. Environ. Res. Lett. 14, 045010 (2019).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Fossheim, M. et al. Recent warming leads to a rapid borealization of fish communities in the Arctic. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 673–677 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Kortsch, K. et al. Climate change alters the structure of Arctic marine food webs due to poleward shifts of boreal generalists. Proc. R. Soc. B 282, 20151546 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    AMAP Climate Change Update 2019: An Update to Key Findings of Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) 2017 (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, 2019).

  6. 6.

    Bischof, K. et al. in The Ecosystem of Kongsfjorden, Svalbard (eds Hop, H. & Wiencke, C.) 537–562 (Advances in Polar Ecology Vol 2, Springer, 2019).

  7. 7.

    Kortsch, K. et al. Climate-driven regime shifts in Arctic marine benthos. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 14052–14057 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Carson, M. & Peterson, G. Arctic Resilience Report (Arctic Council, Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre, 2016).

  9. 9.

    Levin, S. A. & Lubchenco, J. Resilience, robustness, and marine ecosystem-based management. Bioscience 58, 27–32 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Hop, H. & Wiencke, C. The Ecosystem of Kongsfjorden, Svalbard (Advances in Polar Ecology Vol. 2, Springer, 2019).

  11. 11.

    Lusher, D., Koskinen, J. & Robins, G. Exponential Random Graph Models for Social Networks. Theory, Methods and Applications (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  12. 12.

    Condie, S. A., Johnson, P., Fulton, E. A. & Bulman, C. M. Relating food web structure to resilience, keystone status and uncertainty in ecological responses. Ecosphere 5, 81 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Bascompte, J. & Melian, C. J. Simple trophic modules for complex food webs. Ecology 86, 2868–2873 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Stouffer, D. B. & Bascompte, J. Understanding food-web persistence from local to global scales. Ecol. Lett. 13, 154–161 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Caimo, A. & Friel, N. Bayesian inference for exponential random graph models. Soc. Networks 33, 41–55 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Yletyinen, J., Bodin, Ö., Weigel, B., Nordström, M. C., Bonsdoff, E. & Blencker, T. Regime shifts in marine communities: a complex systems perspective on food web dynamics. Proc. R. Soc. B 283, 20152569 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Planque, B. et al. Who eats whom in the Barents Sea: a food web topology from plankton to whales. Ecology 95, 1430 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Renner, A. H. H., Dodd, P. A. & Fransson, A. An Assessment of MOSJ: The State of the Marine Climate System around Svalbard and Jan Mayen (Norwegian Polar Institute, 2018).

  19. 19.

    Geyer, C. J. & Thompson, E. A. Constrained Monte Carlo maximum likelihood for dependent data (with discussion). J. R. Stat. Soc. B 54, 657–699 (1992).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Murray, I., Ghahramani, Z. & Mackay, D. in Proc. 22nd Annual Conference on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence (eds Dechter, R. & Richardson, T.) 359–366 (AUAI, 2006).

  21. 21.

    Jordán, F., Okey, T. A., Bauer., B. & Libralato, S. Identifying important species: linking structure and function in ecological networks. Ecol. Model. 216, 75–80 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Griffith, G. P., Strutton, P. G., Semmens, J. M. & Fulton, E. A. Identifying important species that amplify or mitigate the interaction effects of human impacts on marine food webs. Cons. Biol. 33, 403–412 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Camacho, J., Stouffer, D. & Amarel, L. Quantitative analysis of the local structure of food webs. J. Theor. Biol. 246, 260–268 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Vrkoč, I. & Křivan, V. Asymptotic stability of tri-trophic food chains sharing a common resource. Math. Biosci. 270, 90–94 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Holt, R. D. Predation, apparent competition, and the structure of prey communities. Theor. Popul. Biol. 12, 197–229 (1977).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Wiencke, C. & Hop, H. Ecosystem Kongsfjorden: new views after more than a decade of research. Polar Biol. 39, 1679–1687 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Descamps, S. et al. Climate change impacts on wildlife in a High Arctic archipelago—Svalbard, Norway. Glob. Change Biol. 23, 490–502 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Blanchard, J. A rewired food web. Nature 527, 173–175 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Tverberg, V. et al. in The Ecosystem of Kongsfjorden, Svalbard (eds Hop, H. & Wiencke, C.) 49–104 (Advances in Polar Ecology Vol. 2, Springer, 2019).

  30. 30.

    Scheffer, M. et al. Anticipating critical transitions. Science 338, 344–348 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Vihtakari, M. et al. Black-legged kittiwakes as messengers of Atlantification in the Arctic. Sci. Rep. 8, 1178 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Litzow, M. A. & Hunsicker, M. E. Early warning signals, nonlinearity, and signs of hysteresis in real ecosystems. Ecosphere 7, e01614 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    May, R. M. Networks and webs in ecosystems and financial systems. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 371, 20120376 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Dalpadado, P. et al. Distribution and abundance of euphausiids and pelagic amphipods in Kongsfjorden, Isfjorden and Rijpfjorden (Svalbard) and changes in their relative importance as key prey in a warming marine ecosystem. Polar Biol. 39, 1765–1784 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Lydersen, C. et al. The importance of tidewater glaciers for marine mammals and seabirds in Svalbard, Norway. J. Mar. Syst. 129, 452–471 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Choquet, M. et al. Genetics redraws pelagic biogeography of Calanus. Biol. Lett. 13, 20170588 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Hamilton, C. D. et al. Spatial overlap among Arctic predators, prey and scavengers in the marginal ice zone. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 573, 45–59 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Huenerlage, K., Graeve, M. & Buchholz, F. Lipid composition and trophic relationships of krill species in a high Arctic fjord. Polar Biol. 39, 1803–1817 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Renaud, P. E. et al. Pelagic food-webs in a changing Arctic: a trait-based perspective suggests a mode of resilience. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 75, 1871–1881 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors acknowledge the support of the Research Council of Norway (Ice-algal and under-ice phytoplankton bloom dynamics in a changing Arctic icescape (Boom or Bust), project no. 244646), FRAM-High North Research Centre for Climate and Environment Flagship program Ocean acidification and ecosystem effects in Northern Waters, the Norwegian Metacentre for Computational Science (NOTUR) and the Norwegian Polar Institute’s Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems (ICE).

Author information




G.P.G. conceived the idea, methods and wrote the paper. All the co-authors contributed to the final version. G.P.G., H.H., G.W.G. and M.V. interpreted the results. M.V., K.K. and A.W. prepared the data.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gary P. Griffith.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Scott Condie, Johanna Yletyinen and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–3, Tables 1–3 and references.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Griffith, G.P., Hop, H., Vihtakari, M. et al. Ecological resilience of Arctic marine food webs to climate change. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 868–872 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing