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Concept: Zooplankton


A Marine Climate Impacts Workshop was held from 29 April to 3 May 2012 at the US National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara. This workshop was the culmination of a series of six meetings over the past three years, which had brought together 25 experts in climate change ecology, analysis of large datasets, palaeontology, marine ecology and physical oceanography. Aims of these workshops were to produce a global synthesis of climate impacts on marine biota, to identify sensitive habitats and taxa, to inform the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, and to strengthen research into ecological impacts of climate change.

Concepts: Biology, Life, Oceanography, Greek loanwords, Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Outline of biology


Microplastics (plastics <5 mm diameter) are at the forefront of current environmental pollution research, however, little is known about the degradation of microplastics through ingestion. Here, by exposing Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) to microplastics under acute static renewal conditions, we present evidence of physical size alteration of microplastics ingested by a planktonic crustacean. Ingested microplastics (31.5 µm) are fragmented into pieces less than 1 µm in diameter. Previous feeding studies have shown spherical microplastics either; pass unaffected through an organism and are excreted, or are sufficiently small for translocation to occur. We identify a new pathway; microplastics are fragmented into sizes small enough to cross physical barriers, or are egested as a mixture of triturated particles. These findings suggest that current laboratory-based feeding studies may be oversimplifying interactions between zooplankton and microplastics but also introduces a new role of Antarctic krill, and potentially other species, in the biogeochemical cycling and fate of plastic.

Concepts: Eating, Antarctica, Biomass, Zooplankton, Copepod, Krill, Antarctic krill, Euphausia


In extreme high-latitude marine environments that are without solar illumination in winter, light-mediated patterns of biological migration have historically been considered non-existent [1]. However, diel vertical migration (DVM) of zooplankton has been shown to occur even during the darkest part of the polar night, when illumination levels are exceptionally low [2, 3]. This paradox is, as yet, unexplained. Here, we present evidence of an unexpected uniform behavior across the entire Arctic, in fjord, shelf, slope and open sea, where vertical migrations of zooplankton are driven by lunar illumination. A shift from solar-day (24-hr period) to lunar-day (24.8-hr period) vertical migration takes place in winter when the moon rises above the horizon. Further, mass sinking of zooplankton from the surface waters and accumulation at a depth of ∼50 m occurs every 29.5 days in winter, coincident with the periods of full moon. Moonlight may enable predation of zooplankton by carnivorous zooplankters, fish, and birds now known to feed during the polar night [4]. Although primary production is almost nil at this time, lunar vertical migration (LVM) may facilitate monthly pulses of carbon remineralization, as they occur continuously in illuminated mesopelagic systems [5], due to community respiration of carnivorous and detritivorous zooplankton. The extent of LVM during the winter suggests that the behavior is highly conserved and adaptive and therefore needs to be considered as “baseline” zooplankton activity in a changing Arctic ocean [6-9]. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Moon, Arctic Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Plankton, Arctic Circle, Svalbard, Diel vertical migration


Plastic waste is a pervasive feature of marine environments, yet little is empirically known about the biological and physical processes that transport plastics through marine ecosystems. To address this need, we conducted in situ feeding studies of microplastic particles (10 to 600 μm in diameter) with the giant larvacean Bathochordaeus stygius. Larvaceans are abundant components of global zooplankton assemblages, regularly build mucus “houses” to filter particulate matter from the surrounding water, and later abandon these structures when clogged. By conducting in situ feeding experiments with remotely operated vehicles, we show that giant larvaceans are able to filter a range of microplastic particles from the water column, ingest, and then package microplastics into their fecal pellets. Microplastics also readily affix to their houses, which have been shown to sink quickly to the seafloor and deliver pulses of carbon to benthic ecosystems. Thus, giant larvaceans can contribute to the vertical flux of microplastics through the rapid sinking of fecal pellets and discarded houses. Larvaceans, and potentially other abundant pelagic filter feeders, may thus comprise a novel biological transport mechanism delivering microplastics from surface waters, through the water column, and to the seafloor. Our findings necessitate the development of tools and sampling methodologies to quantify concentrations and identify environmental microplastics throughout the water column.

Concepts: Oceanography, Natural environment, Benthos, Ocean, Aquatic ecology, Zooplankton, Pelagic zone, Filter feeder


The natural, prehuman abundance of most large predators is unknown because of the lack of historical data and a limited understanding of the natural factors that control their populations. Determining the supportable predator biomass at a given location (that is, the predator carrying capacity) would help managers to optimize protection and would provide site-specific recovery goals. We assess the relationship between predatory reef fish biomass and several anthropogenic and environmental variables at 39 reefs across the Caribbean to (i) estimate their roles determining local predator biomass and (ii) determine site-specific recovery potential if fishing was eliminated. We show that predatory reef fish biomass tends to be higher in marine reserves but is strongly negatively related to human activities, especially coastal development. However, human activities and natural factors, including reef complexity and prey abundance, explain more than 50% of the spatial variation in predator biomass. Comparing site-specific predator carrying capacities to field observations, we infer that current predatory reef fish biomass is 60 to 90% lower than the potential supportable biomass in most sites, even within most marine reserves. We also found that the scope for recovery varies among reefs by at least an order of magnitude. This suggests that we could underestimate unfished biomass at sites that provide ideal conditions for predators or greatly overestimate that of seemingly predator-depleted sites that may have never supported large predator populations because of suboptimal environmental conditions.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Coral reef, Hunting, Carrying capacity, Zooplankton, Starfish, Predatory fish


When searching for food, foraging fishes expose themselves to hidden predators. The strategies that maximize the survival of foraging fishes are not well understood. Here, we describe a novel type of mobbing behaviour displayed by foraging Scolopsis affinis. The fish direct sharp water jets towards the hidden sessile annelid predator Eunice aphroditois (Bobbit worm). We recognized two different behavioural roles for mobbers (i.e., initiator and subsequent participants). The first individual to exhibit behaviour indicating the discovery of the Bobbit directed, absolutely and per time unit, more water jets than the subsequent individuals that joined the mobbing. We found evidence that the mobbing impacted the behaviour of the Bobbit, e.g., by inducing retraction. S. affinis individuals either mob alone or form mobbing groups. We speculate that this behaviour may provide social benefits for its conspecifics by securing foraging territories for S. affinis. Our results reveal a sophisticated and complex behavioural strategy to protect against a hidden predator.

Concepts: Predation, Annelids, Zooplankton, Population dynamics of fisheries, Mobbing behavior, Starfish, Danny Trejo, Eunicidae


Biological clocks are a ubiquitous ancient and adaptive mechanism enabling organisms to anticipate environmental cycles and to regulate behavioral and physiological processes accordingly [1]. Although terrestrial circadian clocks are well understood, knowledge of clocks in marine organisms is still very limited [2-5]. This is particularly true for abundant species displaying large-scale rhythms like diel vertical migration (DVM) that contribute significantly to shaping their respective ecosystems [6]. Here we describe exogenous cycles and endogenous rhythms associated with DVM of the ecologically important and highly abundant planktic copepod Calanus finmarchicus. In the laboratory, C. finmarchicus shows circadian rhythms of DVM, metabolism, and most core circadian clock genes (clock, period1, period2, timeless, cryptochrome2, and clockwork orange). Most of these genes also cycle in animals assessed in the wild, though expression is less rhythmic at depth (50-140 m) relative to shallow-caught animals (0-50 m). Further, peak expressions of clock genes generally occurred at either sunset or sunrise, coinciding with peak migration times. Including one of the first field investigations of clock genes in a marine species [5, 7], this study couples clock gene measurements with laboratory and field data on DVM. While the mechanistic connection remains elusive, our results imply a high degree of causality between clock gene expression and one of the planet’s largest daily migrations of biomass. We thus suggest that circadian clocks increase zooplankton fitness by optimizing the temporal trade-off between feeding and predator avoidance, especially when environmental drivers are weak or absent [8].

Concepts: Gene, Biology, Organism, Circadian rhythm, Period, ARNTL, Zooplankton, Plankton


Large, actively swimming suspension feeders evolved several times in Earth’s history, arising independently from groups as diverse as sharks, rays and stem teleost fishes, and in mysticete whales. However, animals occupying this niche have not been identified from the early Palaeozoic era. Anomalocarids, a group of stem arthropods that were the largest nektonic animals of the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, are generally thought to have been apex predators. Here we describe new material from Tamisiocaris borealis, an anomalocarid from the Early Cambrian (Series 2) Sirius Passet Fauna of North Greenland, and propose that its frontal appendage is specialized for suspension feeding. The appendage bears long, slender and equally spaced ventral spines furnished with dense rows of long and fine auxiliary spines. This suggests that T. borealis was a microphagous suspension feeder, using its appendages for sweep-net capture of food items down to 0.5 mm, within the size range of mesozooplankton such as copepods. Our observations demonstrate that large, nektonic suspension feeders first evolved during the Cambrian explosion, as part of an adaptive radiation of anomalocarids. The presence of nektonic suspension feeders in the Early Cambrian, together with evidence for a diverse pelagic community containing phytoplankton and mesozooplankton, indicate the existence of a complex pelagic ecosystem supported by high primary productivity and nutrient flux. Cambrian pelagic ecosystems seem to have been more modern than previously believed.

Concepts: Evolution, Animal, Cambrian explosion, Zooplankton, Plankton, Ordovician, Cambrian, Paleozoic


The scale-eating cichlid Perissodus microlepis with asymmetric mouth is an attractive model of behavioral laterality: each adult tears off scales from prey fishes' left or right flanks according to the direction in which its mouth is skewed. To investigate the development of behavioral laterality and mouth asymmetry, we analyzed stomach contents and lower jaw-bone asymmetry of various-sized P. microlepis (22≤SL<115mm) sampled in Lake Tanganyika. The shapes of the pored scales found in each specimen's stomach indicated its attack side preference. Early-juvenile specimens (SL<45mm) feeding mainly on zooplankton exhibited slight but significant mouth asymmetry. As the fish acquired scale-eating (45mm≤SL), attack side preference was gradually strengthened, as was mouth asymmetry. Among size-matched individuals, those with more skewed mouths ate more scales. These findings show that behavioral laterality in scale-eating P. microlepis is established in association with development of mouth asymmetry which precedes the behavioral acquisition, and that this synergistic interaction between physical and behavioral literalities may contribute to efficient scale-eating.

Concepts: Sample, Psychology, Cichlid, Fish, Lake Tanganyika, Zooplankton, Lake Victoria, Tropheus


Biologically generated turbulence has been proposed as an important contributor to nutrient transport and ocean mixing1-3. However, to produce non-negligible transport and mixing, such turbulence must produce eddies at scales comparable to the length scales of stratification in the ocean. It has previously been argued that biologically generated turbulence is limited to the scale of the individual animals involved 4 , which would make turbulence created by highly abundant centimetre-scale zooplankton such as krill irrelevant to ocean mixing. Their small size notwithstanding, zooplankton form dense aggregations tens of metres in vertical extent as they undergo diurnal vertical migration over hundreds of metres3,5,6. This behaviour potentially introduces additional length scales-such as the scale of the aggregation-that are of relevance to animal interactions with the surrounding water column. Here we show that the collective vertical migration of centimetre-scale swimmers-as represented by the brine shrimp Artemia salina-generates aggregation-scale eddies that mix a stable density stratification, resulting in an effective turbulent diffusivity up to three orders of magnitude larger than the molecular diffusivity of salt. These observed large-scale mixing eddies are the result of flow in the wakes of the individual organisms coalescing to form a large-scale downward jet during upward swimming, even in the presence of a strong density stratification relative to typical values observed in the ocean. The results illustrate the potential for marine zooplankton to considerably alter the physical and biogeochemical structure of the water column, with potentially widespread effects owing to their high abundance in climatically important regions of the ocean 7 .

Concepts: Water, Fluid dynamics, Orders of magnitude, Crustacean, Brine shrimp, Turbulence, Marine biology, Zooplankton