zooplankton

New Scientific Paper Published: “Gelatinous Carbon Impacts Benthic Megafaunal Communities in a Continental Margin”

Last week, Frontiers in Marine Science published a paper led by BCSS’s Chief Scientist Dr. Mario Lebrato alongside an international team of scientists. The paper, “Gelatinous Carbon Impacts Benthic Megafaunal Communities in a Continental Margin”, outlines how sinking ocean plankton (e.g. jellyfish) transport carbon (jelly-C) to the deep ocean impacting benthic animals (e.g. invertebrates and fish) once the carbon reaches the seabed. The research was conducted using Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs), which are small submarines, in collaboration with the oil industry off West Africa from 20 to 1300 m depth.


“Once they die, little is known about how sinking jelly-C impacts benthic communities. Understanding the impact of jelly-C on benthic communities is of crucial importance because they act as carbon recyclers, and also form part of complex ecosystems from shallow to deep waters.”
– Dr. Mario Lebrato

Large aggregations (“blooming”) of gelatinous plankton (zooplankton: jellyfish, salps, and pyrosomes), which are boneless organisms swimming in the ocean, have increased in frequency and intensity globally in recent decades. These large aggregations store vast amounts of carbon (jelly-C), which has been previously fixed and stored by algae (phytoplankton), and then passed on to gelatinous zooplankton. Once they die, little is known about how sinking jelly-C impacts benthic communities, including invertebrates and fish. Understanding the impact of jelly-C on benthic communities is of crucial importance because the last act as carbon recyclers, and also form part of complex ecosystems from shallow to deep waters. Climate change and anthropogenic impacts (environmental change caused or influenced by humans) are expected to increase the blooming activity of gelatinous zooplankton, also shifting the carbon sources to the seabed. 

Representative members of gelatinous zooplankton. (a) Nemertean. (b) Phaeodarian radiolarian. (c) Salp with parasitic copepod. (d) Lobate ctenophore. (e). Narcomedusan hydrozoan. (f) Nudibranch mollusc. (g). Chaetognath. (h) Physonect siphonophore. (i) Coronate scyphozoan. (j) Polychaete. (Source: Steven H. D. Haddock via ResearchGate.)

The emergence of gelatinous creatures in imbalance with ecosystems due to climate change and various anthropogenic factors throughout recent decades has urged the scientific community to research the role of jelly-C. It took a long time to assemble field-based evidence of the importance of the gelatinous zooplankton contributing to benthic communities via carbon export, owing to logistics complexities of working in the deep-sea. Several studies on jelly-C have been published in the last decade (including 10 other scientific papers by BCSS Chief Scientist Dr. Lebrato), but its value as a food source has not been acknowledged until recently.

Deep sea footage taken to assess the feeding patterns of jelly-C by marine life (left) and a graphic overview of the analysis per depth and marine taxonomy (right) (source: Dr. Lebrato).

Deep sea footage of organisms on the seabed, taken as part of the research. (source: Dr. Lebrato).

Studies have found that various species of crustaceans and fish consume jelly-C. Pelagic marine life also feed on jelly-C – accounting for 20-80% of the diet of species including tuna, turtles, and sunfish. Even though jelly-C is low in energy content compared to other food like fish or algae, the continuous availability of jelly-C makes it an energy-efficient food source. Jelly-C that has reached the seafloor is often consumed by megafaunal organisms (e.g. sponges, shrimp and crabs), sometimes it is partly consumed and, occasionally, it remains intact and ends up being respired by microbial communities. This new research shows that such large amounts of jelly-C trigger substantial changes on benthic communities, including dominance events, which means that a species dominates the seabed excluding others. To read the full paper published by Frontiers, please click here.

Last year, Dr. Lebrato contributed to a National Geographic Germany article on jellyfish and their carbon export. Read more about this publication here.

An educational video were produced to further explain this research, narrated by Dr. Lebrato. The video includes footage of the research at depths of +1000 m. See the video below. 

“Lebrato, M., Molinero, J-C., Mateo-Gonzalez, E. and Jones, D. O. B. 2022. Gelatinous Carbon Impacts Benthic Megafaunal Communities in a Continental Margin. Frontiers in Marine Science 9:902674. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2022.902674”

For technical and scientific questions please contact:
Dr. Mario Lebrato, Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
mario.lebrato@bcssmz.org

For press-related questions about this article, please contact:
Iris Uijttewaal, Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
Iris.Uijttewaal@bcssmz.org

For questions about BCSS data, please contact:
Dr. Mario Lebrato, Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
Mario.Lebrato@bcssmz.org

Partners involved in this research are:
Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS) – Mozambique
IRD/CNRS/IFREMER/University of Montpellier – France
Londer Laboratories – USA
Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – Spain
National Oceanography Centre – UK
Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) – Germany
MERCES (Marine Ecosystem Restoration in Changing European Seas)
Norwegian Research Council project Jelly Farm (Grant No. 244572

Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
Host of the first permanent Ocean Observatory focused on multi-ecosystem time series research in Africa, the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS) was established in 2017 as in independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to protect and support the fragile ecosystems of the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique. The research station is located on Benguerra Island, off the coast of Mozambique.

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