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The distribution and ecology of the fresh- and brackish-water medusae of the world

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Limnocnida and Craspedacusta are the two main genera of Cnidaria from continental waters which have a free-swimming medusa in their life cycle. Both originated in tropical-subtropical Asia, but Limnocnida is also found in Africa, with one species (L. tanganjicae) perhaps endemic to lake Tanganyika. Halmomises from Trinidad, and two genera (Mansariella, Keralica) from India have limited ranges. No freshwater medusae evolved in Europe and the Americas (aside from Trinidad), but Craspedacusta sowerbii, by virtue of its drought resistant stages, has managed to colonise all continents, except Antarctica, in the course of the twentieth century. In all, there are about 10–14 freshwater species of medusae. An additional 4–5 species of Moerisia, Australomedusa, and Craspedacusta are sequestered in continental salt-lakes, while a few genera occur in brackish-water seas and estuaries (e.g. Moerisia, Odessia, Ostroumovia). This reduced diversity is probably due to (1) a rarity of drought resistant stages, adjusted to upstream dispersal, in the life cycle, and (2) difficulties to adapt the osmoregulatory system to a hypotonic environment.

The feeding ecology of the freshwater medusae is also examined. Like all Cnidaria, they are opportunistic predators. However, fish egg predation might be their major means of subsistence, other types of food being taken only occasionally, or when fish eggs and larvae are scarce. Their impact on the true zooplankton might therefore be limited to short pulses of planktivory. Whether they are themselves limited by predation remains to be studied; many fish in the invasive part of their range avoid them, but some macrocrustaceans readily consume them. It is hypothesized that this might explain their success in Lake Tanganyika, and their absence from lake Baical. Finally, the absence of endemic species from South America could relate to the great diversity bf small-sized predatory aquatic reptiles on this subcontinent.

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Dumont, H.J. The distribution and ecology of the fresh- and brackish-water medusae of the world. Hydrobiologia 272, 1–12 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00006508

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Key words

  • Cnidaria
  • Craspedacusta
  • Limnocnida
  • Halmomises
  • Moerisia
  • Aurelia
  • inland waters
  • biogeography
  • predation
  • egg-predation
  • osmoregulation
  • passive dispersal