Ultraviolet absorption in transparent zooplankton and its implications for depth distribution and visual predation
- Cite this article as:
- Johnsen, S. & Widder, E. Marine Biology (2001) 138: 717. doi:10.1007/s002270000499
The use of transparency as camouflage in the epipelagic realm is complicated by the presence of ultraviolet radiation, because the presence of UV-protective pigments decreases UV transparency and may reveal transparent zooplankton to predators and prey with UV vision. During July 1999, September 1999, and June 2000, transparency measurements (from 280 to 500 nm) were made on living specimens of 15 epipelagic (collection depth: 0–20 m, average: 11 ± 1 m) and 19 mesopelagic (collection depth: 150–790 m, average: 370 ± 40 m) species of transparent zooplankton from Oceanographer Canyon and Wilkinson Basin in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. In addition, measurements of downwelling irradiance (from 330 to 500 nm) versus depth were made. The tissues from epipelagic zooplankton had lower UV transparency than those from mesopelagic zooplankton, while the average visible transparency (at 480 nm) of the two groups was not significantly different. Percent transparency was positively correlated with wavelength over most of the measured range, with a rapid decrease below a certain cutoff wavelength. In mesopelagic tissues, the cutoff wavelength was generally 300 nm. In epipelagic tissues, the cutoff wavelength was between 300 and 400 nm. Twelve out of 19 epipelagic tissues had transparencies at 320 nm that were half or less than their 480 nm transparency values, versus only 4 out of 21 mesopelagic tissues. The effects of UV absorption on UV visibility and minimum attainable depth were modeled using contrast theory and the physics of light attenuation. Because UV absorption was generally significantly greater in the UVB than in the UVA spectrum (where UV vision occurs), and because the highest UV absorption was often found in less transparent individuals, its modeled effects on visibility were slight compared to its effects on minimum attainable depth.