, Volume 616, Issue 1, pp 151–160 | Cite as

Influence of decomposing jellyfish on the sediment oxygen demand and nutrient dynamics

  • Elizabeth Jane WestEmail author
  • David Thomas Welsh
  • Kylie Anne Pitt


Jellyfish populations can grow rapidly to attain large biomasses and therefore can represent significant stocks of carbon and nitrogen in the ecosystem. Blooms are also generally short-lived, lasting for just weeks or months, after which time the population can decline rapidly, sink to the bottom and decompose. The influence of decomposing jellyfish (Catostylus mosaicus, Scyphozoa) on benthic dissolved oxygen and nutrient fluxes was examined in a mesocosm experiment at Smiths Lake, a coastal lagoon in New South Wales, Australia. Sediment (10 l) was placed in each of 10 mesocosms (50 × 40 cm, 30 cm deep and ~60 l volume) which were supplied a continuous flow of fresh lagoon water. One jellyfish (1.6 kg wet weight or ~25 g C m−2) was added to each of five mesocosms, with the remaining five mesocosms serving as controls. Exchanges of dissolved oxygen, organic and inorganic nutrients between the benthos and water column were measured 14 times over a period of nine days. The addition of dead jellyfish tissue to the mesocosm sediments initially resulted in an efflux of phosphate, dissolved organic nitrogen and dissolved organic phosphorus to the water column. Dissolved organic nitrogen and dissolved organic phosphorus effluxed at rates more than 8 and 25 times greater than those measured in control mesocosms, respectively. This was probably due to the intracellular nutrients leaching from the jellyfish tissues. As decomposition proceeded, a large quantity of ammonium was released to the water column and sediment oxygen demand increased, indicating bacterial decomposition was dominant. Overall the addition of dead jellyfish caused a 454% increase in ammonium efflux and 209% increase in sediment oxygen demand over the 9-day experiment relative to the controls. The decomposition of large numbers of jellyfish after major bloom events could be a significant source of nutrients and, depending on the system, could have a major impact on primary production. Moreover, depending on the degree of mixing in the water column, decaying jellyfish may also contribute to bottom water hypoxia.


Decomposition Decay Organic matter Catostylus mosaicus Scyphozoa Flux 



We thank A. L. Clement, L. Pettifer, and J. P. van de Merwe for field support, and M. Jordon for advice on nutrient analyses. Thanks also to D. Hair and I. Suthers (University of New South Wales) for the use of aquarium equipment and Smiths Lake field station. Funding was provided by the Hermon Slade Foundation.


  1. APHA, 1999. Standard Methods for Examination of Water and Wastewater, 20th ed. American Public Health Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  2. Arai, M. N., 1988. Interactions of fish and pelagic coelenterates. Canadian Journal of Zoology 66: 1913–1927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arai, M. N., 1997. A Functional Biology of Scyphozoa. Chapman & Hall, London.Google Scholar
  4. Arai, M. N., 2005. Predation on pelagic coelenterates: a review. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 85: 523–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arai, M. N., J. A. Ford & J. N. C. Whyte, 1989. Biochemical composition of fed and starved Aequorea victoria (Murbach et Shearer, 1902) (Hydromedusa). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 127: 289–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Azzoni, R., G. Giordani, M. Bartoli, D. T. Welsh & P. Viaroli, 2001. Iron, sulphur and phosphorus cycling in the rhizosphere sediments of a eutrophic Ruppia cirrhosa meadow of the (Valle Smarlacca, Italy). Journal of Sea Research 45: 15–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Billett, D. S. M., B. J. Bett, C. L. Jacobs, I. P. Rouse & B. D. Wigham, 2006. Mass deposition of jellyfish in the deep Arabian Sea. Limnology and Oceanography 51: 2077–2083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blackburn, T. H. & N. D. Blackburn, 1993. Rates of microbial processes in sediments. Philosophical Transactions: Physical Sciences and Engineering 344: 49–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blackburn, T. H. & K. Henriksen, 1983. Nitrogen cycling in different types of sediments from Danish waters. Limnology and Oceanography 28: 477–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarke, A., L. J. Holmes & D. J. Gore, 1992. Proximate and elemental composition of gelatinous zooplankton from the Southern Ocean. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 155: 55–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fenchel, T., G. M. King & T. H. Blackburn, 1998. Bacterial Biogeochemistry: The Ecophysiology of Mineral Cycling. Academic Press, San Diego.Google Scholar
  12. Frost, P. C., R. S. Stelzer, G. A. Lamberti & J. J. Elser, 2002. Ecological stoichiometry of trophic interactions in the benthos: understanding the role of C:N:P ratios in lentic and lotic habitats. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 2: 515–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gorsky, G., S. Dallot, J. Sardou, R. Fenaux, C. Carre & I. Palazzoli, 1988. C and N composition of some northwestern Mediterranean zooplankton and micronekton species. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 124: 133–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Graham, W. M., 2001. Numerical increases and distributional shifts of Chrysaora quinquecirrha (Desor) and Aurelia aurita (Linne) (Cnidaria: Scyphozoa) in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Hydrobiologia 451: 97–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hagadorn, J. W., R. H. Dott Jr. & D. Damrow, 2002. Stranded on a late Cambrian shoreline: medusae from central Wisconsin. Geology 30: 147–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hay, S., 2006. Marine ecology: gelatinous bells may ring change in marine ecosystems. Current Biology 16: R679–R682.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Herbert, R. A., 1999. Nitrogen cycling in coastal marine ecosystems. FEMS Microbiology Reviews 23: 563–590.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Keister, J. E., E. D. Houde & D. L. Breitburg, 2000. Effects of bottom-layer hypoxia on abundances and depth distributions of organisms in Patuxent River, Chesapeake Bay. Marine Ecology Progress Series 205: 43–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kingsford, M. J., K. A. Pitt & B. M. Gillanders, 2000. Management of jellyfish fisheries with special reference to the order Rhizostomeae. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 38: 85–156.Google Scholar
  20. Larson, R. J., 1986. Water content, organic content, and carbon and nitrogen composition of medusae from northeast Pacific. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 99: 107–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lomstein, B. A., L. B. Guldberg & J. Hansen, 2006. Decomposition of Mytilus edulis: the effect on sediment nitrogen and carbon cycling. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 329: 251–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mills, C. E., 2001. Jellyfish blooms: are populations increasing globally in response to changing ocean conditions? Hydrobiologia 451: 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pitt, K. A. & M. J. Kingsford, 2003a. Temporal variation in the virgin biomass of the edible jellyfish, Catostylus mosaicus (Scyphozoa, Rhizostomeae). Fisheries Research 63: 303–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pitt, K. A. & M. J. Kingsford, 2003b. Temporal and spatial variation in recruitment and growth of medusae of the jellyfish, Catostylus mosaicus (Scyphozoa: Rhizostomeae). Marine and Freshwater Research 54: 117–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pitt, K. A., K. Koop & D. Rissik, 2005. Contrasting contributions to inorganic nutrient recycling by the co-occurring jellyfishes, Catostylus mosaicus and Phyllorhiza punctata (Scyphozoa, Rhizostomeae). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 315: 71–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Quinn, G. P. & M. J. Keough, 2002. Experimental Design and Data Analysis for Biologists. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  27. Schneider, G., 1990. Phosphorus content of marine zooplankton dry material and some consequences; a short review. Plankton Newsletter 12: 41–44.Google Scholar
  28. Shenker, J. M., 1985. Carbon content of the neritic scyphomedusa Chrysaora fuscescens. Journal of Plankton Research 7: 169–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shushkina, E. A., E. I. Musaeva, L. L. Anokhina & T. A. Lukasheva, 2000. Role of gelatinous macroplankton: medusas Aurelia and ctenophores Mnemiopsis and Beroe in the planktonic communities of the Black Sea. Okeanologiya 40: 859–866.Google Scholar
  30. Sterner, R. W. & J. J. Elser, 2002. Ecological Stoichiometry: The Biology of Elements from Molecules to the Biosphere. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  31. Titelman, J., L. Riemann, T. A. Sornes, T. Nilsen, P. Griekspoor & U. Båmstedt, 2006. Turnover of dead jellyfish: stimulation and retardation of microbial activity. Marine Ecology Progress Series 325: 43–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Welsh, D. T., 2003. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it: the role of marine benthic macrofauna in organic matter turnover and nutrient recycling to the water column. Chemistry and Ecology 19: 321–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yamamoto, J., M. Hirose, T. Ohtani, K. Sugimoto, K. Hirase, N. Shimamoto, T. Shimura, N. Honda, Y. Fujimori & T. Mukai, 2008. Transportation of organic matter to the sea floor by carrion falls of the giant jellyfish Nemopilema nomurai in the Sea of Japan. Marine Biology 153: 311–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Jane West
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Thomas Welsh
    • 1
  • Kylie Anne Pitt
    • 1
  1. 1.Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith School of EnvironmentGriffith UniversityGold CoastAustralia

Personalised recommendations