, Volume 97, Issue 1, pp 67-77

Omnivorous feeding behavior of the Antarctic krill Euphausia superba

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Abstract

Feeding experiments were conducted at Palmer Station from December 1985 to February 1986 to examine the potential role of copepod prey as an alternative food source for Euphausia superba. Copepod concentration, copepod size, phytoplankton concentration, the duration of krill starvation and the volume of experimental vessels were altered to determine effects on ingestion and clearance rates. Krill allowed to feed on phytoplankton and copepods in 50-litre tubs showed greatly increased feeding rates relative to animals feeding in the much smaller volumes of water traditionally used for krill-feeding studies. Clearance rates on copepods remained constant over the range of concentrations offered, but clearance rates on phytoplankton increased linearly with phytoplankton concentration. Feeding rates increased when larger copepods were offered and when krill were starved for two weeks prior to experiments. Clearance rates of krill feeding on copepods were higher than, but not correlated with, their clearance rates on phytoplankton in the same vessel. E. superba may have a distinct mechanism for capturing copepods, perhaps through mechanoreception. Although our observed clearance rate of 1055 ml krill-1 h-1 indicates that krill can feed very efficiently on copepod prey, such feeding would meet less than 10% of their minimum metabolic requirements at the “typical” copepod concentrations reported for Antarctic waters. However, substantial energy could be gained if krill fed on the patches of high copepod concentrations occasionally reported during the austral summer, or if krill and copepods were concentrated beneath the sea ice during the winter or spring months. Our results, indicating efficient feeding on zooplankton and higher clearance rates on phytoplankton than previously believed, represent a step towards balancing the energy budget of E. superba in Antarctic waters.

Communicated by R. W. Doyle, Halifax