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Mesozooplankton biomass and temperature-enhanced grazing along a 110°E transect in the eastern Indian Ocean

Michael R. Landry, Raleigh R. Hood, Claire H. Davies

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ABSTRACT: Low-latitude waters of the Indian Ocean are warming faster than other major oceans. Most models predict a zooplankton decline due to lower productivity, enhanced metabolism and phytoplankton size shifts that reduce trophic transfer efficiency. In May-June 2019, we investigated mesozooplankton biomass and grazing along the historic 110°E transect line from the International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE) of the 1960s. Twenty sampling stations from 39.5 to 11.5°S spanned latitudinal variability from temperate to tropical waters and a pronounced 14°C gradient in mean euphotic zone temperature. Although mesozooplankton size structure was similar along the transect, with smaller (<2 mm) size classes dominant, total biomass increased 3 fold (400 to 1500 mg dry weight m-2) from high to low latitude. More dramatically, gut-fluorescence estimates of grazing (total ingestion or % euphotic zone Chla consumed d-1) were 14 and 20-fold higher, respectively, in the low-latitude warmer waters. Biomass-normalized grazing rates varied more than 6 fold over the transect, showing a strong temperature relationship (r2 = 0.85) that exceeded the temperature effects on gut turnover and metabolic rates. Herbivory contributed more to satisfying zooplankton energetic requirements in low-Chla tropical waters than Chla-rich waters at higher latitude. Our unexpected results are inconsistent with trophic amplification of warming effects on phytoplankton to zooplankton, but might be explained by enhanced coupling efficiency via mixotrophy. Additional implications for selective herbivory and top-down grazing control underscore the need for rigorous field studies to understand relationships and validate assumptions about climate change effects on the food webs of tropical oceans.