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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 412:11-27 (2010)  -  DOI:

Autotrophic picoplankton in mesozooplankton guts: evidence of aggregate feeding in the mesopelagic zone and export of small phytoplankton

S. E. Wilson1,*, D. K. Steinberg2

1Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, 7700 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA
2Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Route 1208 Greate Road, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

ABSTRACT: Zooplankton play a key role in affecting the efficiency by which organic matter is exported to depth. Mesozooplankton consumption of detrital aggregates has been hypothesized as a mechanism for enhancing the export of picoplankton from surface layers. We analyzed the gut contents of mesopelagic copepods and ostracods using light and epifluorescence microscopy to determine if cyanobacteria and eukaryotic phytoplankton too small to be ingested individually were present. Hind-guts were dissected from multiple species collected in discrete depth intervals between 0 and 1000 m during the day and night, at contrasting sites in the subtropical (Hawaii Ocean Time-series site ALOHA) and subarctic (Japanese time-series site K2) Pacific Ocean. Autofluorescing cyanobacteria and small eukaryotic phytoplankton were found in the guts of nearly all species sampled from all depths, indicating consumption of aggregates. Some of the cyanobacteria and other small cells ingested may have originated from inside the guts, or as symbionts, of microzooplankton, which were also common in the guts of many of these species. At both sites, most species’ guts contained higher concentrations of cyanobacteria and small phytoplankton at night than during the day. Ostracod guts at ALOHA contained higher densities of picoplankton than those at K2, reflecting the predominance of smaller cells at ALOHA. Guts of diel vertical migrators still contained picoplankton at their deep, daytime residence depths, indicating active export of these cells. Our results indicate mesozooplankton grazing on aggregates is a pathway by which flux of picoplankton can be enhanced.

KEY WORDS: Zooplankton · Gut contents · Cyanobacteria · Picoplankton · Marine snow · Biological pump · Mesopelagic zone · Diel vertical migration

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Cite this article as: Wilson SE, Steinberg DK (2010) Autotrophic picoplankton in mesozooplankton guts: evidence of aggregate feeding in the mesopelagic zone and export of small phytoplankton. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 412:11-27.

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