Thin layers of bioluminescent copepods found at density discontinuities in the water column
- Cite this article as:
- Widder, E., Johnsen, S., Bernstein, S. et al. Marine Biology (1999) 134: 429. doi:10.1007/s002270050559
To learn how organisms apportion space in the open ocean, biological oceanographers have sought to improve temporal and spatial resolution of ocean sampling systems. Their objectives are to simultaneously measure physical, chemical and biological structure in the water column in order to find significant correlations that may reveal underlying processes. Here we report one such correlation between intense peaks of bioluminescence and density discontinuities in the water column. Intensified video recordings made in these bioluminescent “hot spots” were analyzed with a computer image-recognition program that identifies organisms based on the temporal and spatial characteristics of their luminescent displays. Based on this analysis, the source of the “hot spots” was found to be very thin layers (0.5 m) of the bioluminescent copepod Metridia lucens present at from 5 to 100 times average background concentrations. Given the recent discovery that the vertical distribution of marine snow is also strongly correlated with density discontinuities in the water column, we suggest that this finding may provide a possible explanation for the disparity between estimated energy requirements of marine copepods and measurements of average in situ food concentrations. The energy costs associated with locating food-rich micro-patches is greatly reduced if those patches are spread out into very thin layers, because the search strategy can be reduced from three dimensions to one.