Copepods: Rice of the Sea

Of all plankton groups, probably most is known about the copepods. They represent a critical link in the food chain and are consumed by diverse animal community ranging in size from small fish, chaetognaths, and ctenophores all the way up to large whales (the right whale is a voracious copepod feeder). Because of their small size and importance as food, copepods are affectionately known as “the rice of the sea.” Copepods are effectively captured by plankton nets because they have hard exoskeletons, and scientists have good estimates of their abundances and distributions. Although copepods are all relatively small (0.5 mm – 5 mm in length), they comprise over 200 families and 10,000 different species.

CopepodsTogether

Examples of typical copepods. Note to the two large appendages on the top of the head with small sensory hairs

Copepods consume both phytoplankton and microzooplankton in two different ways: suspension feeding and raptorial feeding. Suspension feeding is relatively passive and performed by beating small appendages that draw a current through a feeding chamber. Copepods then select which particles encountered are food and discard others. Raptorial feeding is used to actively capture prey. Many copepods have small sensors on their first appendages to detect water disturbances produced by prey and also predators. They can use these relatively large appendages to “hop” through the water and capture an unsuspecting prey item or to quickly escape a predator.

Copepod reproductive strategies vary greatly and are adapted towards the ability to withstand the variable conditions that characterize the ocean environment. For example, many copepod eggs have the ability to enter a phase of diapause where they remain viable on the bottom for several months or even years, only hatching with conditions are favorable (high concentrations of food). Some copepods carry their eggs, allowing them to develop a bit before releasing them into the water column. The timing of copepod reproduction is especially important for the life cycle of fishes because most fish larvae depend on the recently hatched copepod nauplii for food. If there are not enough copepod nauplii present when fish larvae are abundant, there could be mass starvation events causing few fish larvae to reach their juvenile stage. Because of this, the copepod life cycle is extremely important to fish populations and overall ocean ecosystem health.

This image was taken from a thin layer near Stellwagen Bank offshore of Massachusetts, USA. Each one of the white particles is a copepod. The concentration of organisms in this image corresponds to ~400,000 individuals per cubic meter! That is some good eating for a right whale!

This image was taken from a thin layer near Stellwagen Bank offshore of Massachusetts, USA. Each one of the white particles is a copepod. The concentration of organisms in this image corresponds to ~400,000 individuals per cubic meter! That is some good eating for a right whale!

One of the most remarkable characteristics of copepods is their tendency to aggregate in discrete thin layers within the water column. Sometimes >90% of the copepod biomass will be confined these thin layers, which are a maximum of 5 m thick. ISIIS and other systems that sample on small scales are ideal for detecting these layers of copepods, and the function of the formation and dissipation of copepod thin layers is not well understood. Copepods have been shown to be attracted to strong changes in current direction and speed, potentially allowing them to feed at a faster rate within these zones (Woodson et al. 2005). The changes in environmental variables associated with aggregations of copepods are of great interest to marine ecologists. With your help, we can better understand how these extremely important organisms are distributed throughout our oceans!

References:

Johnson WS, Allen DM (2005) Zooplankton of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts: A guide to their identification and ecology. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD.

Woodson CB, Webster DR, Weissburg MJ, Yen J (2005) Response of copepods to physical gradients associated with structure in the ocean. Limnol Oceanogr 50:1552-1564

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Fantastic Finds Friday #FFF – Cydippid edition

We are nearing the end of Friday, so apologies that this post is late! Hopefully it will be enjoyable for you weekend warriors! By the way, did you see that we are almost at 200,000 classifications?! I am so impressed by this amazing group of citizen scientists that make Zooniverse projects a success, particularly this one. THANK YOU.

We are going to use FFF to point out some amazing pictures that you guys have identified and called to our attention in the last week+, and also to clarify some confusion on a tricky category.

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http://talk.planktonportal.org/#/subjects/APK00003ui

Cydippid ctenophore – #cydippid 

This is a type of comb jelly, called a cydippid ctenophore. We think that this organism is Hormiphora californiensis or a relative. It has a egg shaped body with two tentacles, which are typically extended (for feeding), but also can be retracted into the sides of its body.

The relative of Hormophora californiensis is Pleurobrachia bachei, the sea gooseberry. Check out the following video of P. bachei feeding on some brine shrimp:

Here is another video of P. bachei from the Vancouver Aquarium:

For every easily classified cydippid ctenophore there is also other cydippids that are more difficult to classify by users. These ctenophores include Mertensia and Haeckelia beehleri, which are also cydippids but have their tentacles withdrawn. See below:

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http://talk.planktonportal.org/#/subjects/APK0000yb7

This is also a cydippid ctenophore – but it has its tentacles withdrawn.

To add some more complication to the matter, there are also some lobate ctenophores, like the one below, whose young have a cydippid-like phase.

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http://talk.planktonportal.org/#/subjects/APK0000kvy

Lobate ctenophore – #lobate 

This is a beautiful shot of an adult lobate ctenophore, most likely the species Ocyropsis maculata. However, their young have this cydippid-like phrase. There has been one paper that published a drawing of the development of Ocyropsis. It was published in 1963. I had to email all around to get a copy, and when I receive it, I see that it’s in Chinese. Fortunately, they had great drawings that helped me.

ocyropsisdev1_chiu1963

ocyropsisdev2_chiu1963
Chiu SY (1963) The metamorphosis of the ctenophore Ocyropsis crystallina from Amoy. Acta Zoologica Sinica 15:10-16

If anyone can translate the Chinese, let us know! But otherwise, just look at the cool pictures. There are a couple different stages of lobate ctenophore development, and the cydippid stage is one of the earliest stages. We definitely see this stage in our images. See below:

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http://talk.planktonportal.org/#/subjects/APK0000y4e

Cydippid-phase of young Lobate Ctenophore

Officially, we want you to make this as a #lobate. BUT, we also know that these are incredibly confusing because these ctenophores have tentacles. So, we understand if you get these mixed up. In our data cleanup, we will end up checking the classifications of the small cydippids and lobates to make sure that they are classified correctly. Also, please know that if you do mix these classifications up, we will at least know that it’s a ctenophore! That’s more information than we had previously. So, anything is helpful.

THAT’S ALL FOLKS! Thanks for reading. Remember to tag images you want considered for Fantastic Finds Friday with the hashtag #FFF. And as always, thanks for classifying! We are currently at 191,968 classifications. So very close to 200,000!