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A survival pack for escaping predation in the open ocean: amphipod – pteropod associations in the Southern Ocean


Hyperiidean amphipods are a major prey for fish and seabirds. In the Southern Ocean, they are particularly abundant, with distributions ranging from the Polar Frontal Zone to Antarctic shelf waters. The species Hyperiella dilatata has previously been reported to show a peculiar anti-predatory behaviour: It captures chemically protected, gymnosome pteropods in the water column and carries them on its dorsum, like a backpack. We report this association at four oceanic sampling sites between latitudes 45° and 71° S. Molecular barcodes of both hosts and pteropods are provided and compared with those of other hyperiidean and pteropod specimens. Morphological identifications as well as molecular analyses show a so far undocumented association of Hyperiella antarctica with the pteropod Spongiobranchaea australis in the Polar Frontal Zone (Lazarev Sea). H. dilatata carried Clione limacina antarctica specimens in the Weddell Sea, as recorded previously for the Ross Sea. Lengths of the abducted pteropods varied between 1 and 5 mm, with the biggest pteropod measuring more than half the host’s size. One of the abducting amphipods was a female carrying eggs. The formation of such tandem is known to be very efficient as protection from visually hunting icefish in the crystal-clear coastal waters around the Antarctic continent; however, in the open ocean, this behaviour was so far undocumented. Here, we develop hypotheses on its origin and function.

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We greatly acknowledge Dr. Olaf Boebel as chief scientist during the expedition PS103, for the numerous sampling opportunities, as well as the captain and crew of R/V Polarstern for their skilful support. Samples were also obtained during the R/V Polarstern expedition PS82 (ANT-XXIX/9) to the Filchner area of the Weddell Sea, for which we are grateful to the chief scientist Dr. Rainer Knust, captain and crew as well as fellow scientists of the pelagic sampling team for providing amphipods. This publication is a result of the Polarstern Grant No. AWI_PS103_03 of the project “InterPelagic” and Grant No. AWI_PS82_03 of the Filchner expedition. A permit for sampling south of 60° S under the Antarctic Treaty was obtained from the German Environmental Agency (UBA) with the number II 2.8–94003-3/382. Special thanks go to Franz Schröter and Simon Schöbinger for their valuable support in sorting samples during PS103.


This work was supported by the German Science Foundation/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in the framework of the Priority Programme 1158 on “Antarctic Research with comparative investigations in Arctic ice areas” by the grant HA 7627/1-1 to the first author.

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Correspondence to Charlotte Havermans.

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All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals (invertebrates) were followed.

Sampling and field studies

The necessary permit for sampling and observational field studies have been obtained by the authors from the competent authorities and are mentioned in the acknowledgements.

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Communicated by A. Brandt

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Havermans, C., Hagen, W., Zeidler, W. et al. A survival pack for escaping predation in the open ocean: amphipod – pteropod associations in the Southern Ocean. Mar Biodiv 49, 1361–1370 (2019).

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  • Hyperiidea
  • Hyperiella
  • Clione
  • Spongiobranchaea
  • Gymnosomata
  • COI barcodes