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Three-spined stickleback

Gasterosteus aculeatus

Three spined stickleback

Three-spined stickleback is one of the most abundant fish species in the Baltic Sea, after herring and sprat. The stickleback has an influential position in the ecosystem as food source for piscivorous fishes and is an important predator on grazers, e.g. the Baltic isopod.

Conservation genetic management advice

  • There is no particular genetic management advice communicated or warranted. Management can be of low concern as the high effective population sizes and the observed connectivity should maintain the genetic diversity.
  • However, the sticklebacks are at an influential position as a predator, ecosystem engineer and food source. This ecosystem complexity should be considered in management plans.
  • To maintain the potential to adapt to future conditions, high population sizes and continuous connectivity between those to transfer relevant genetic diversity, are important factors.

Threats to genetic biodiversity

There are no immediate threats to populations or genetic variation.

Knowledge on genetics in the Baltic (2016)

There is low spatial genetic differentiation between different populations of Baltic Sea three-spined sticklebacks. This pattern is likely generated by a large effective population size and suggests one global population in the Baltic.

Tolerance to climate change & potential to adapt

Results from BONUS BAMBI suggest that three-spined sticklebacks can buffer their offspring from environmental stress caused by salinity change. The mechanism for this acclimation could be transgenerational plasticity, where parents trigger a faster development and growth of the offspring to compensate for high mortality rates in the early stages.

The large genetic effective population and high connectivity between metapopulations should likely maintain the species´evolutionary potential, and thus the long-time survival. Further analyses are needed to fully describe and evaluate the adaptive potential of the three-spined sticklebacks.



Britta Meyer

Melanie Heckwolf


Additional information

During spring spawning, high densities of sticklebacks migrate from offshore into shallow bays and harbors along the coast. Here, they provide a rich food source for adult stages of piscivorous fishes. The sticklebacks themselves also predate on a diverse range of prey items, including e.g. eggs and larvae of coastal piscivorous as well as mesograzers. Thus they affect recruitment on commercial fish and potentially also algal growth.

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