Cannibalism makes invasive comb jelly, Mnemiopsis leidyi, resilient to unfavourable conditions.
The proliferation of invasive marine species is often explained by a lack of predators and opportunistic life history traits. For the invasive comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi, it has remained unclear how this now widely distributed species is able to overcome long periods of low food availability, particularly in their northernmost exotic habitats in Eurasia. Based on both field and laboratory evidence, we show that adult comb jellies in the western Baltic Sea continue building up their nutrient reserves after emptying the prey field through a shift to cannibalizing their own larvae. We argue, that by creating massive late summer blooms, the population can efficiently empty the prey field, outcompete intraguild competitors, and use the bloom events to build nutrient reserves for critical periods of prey scarcity. Our finding that cannibalism makes a species with typical opportunistic traits more resilient to environmental fluctuations is important for devising more effective conservation strategies.