Risk and resources in the plankton: effects on copepod population growth and zooplankton community dynamics
Lasley, Rachel Skye
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The focus of my thesis research is on the interplay between individual behavior, population dynamics and community-level processes within zooplankton communities in coastal Maine. The target organisms of my thesis work are marine copepods. Copepods are small (1-10 mm) crustaceans that perform the essential ecosystem function of consuming and assimilating primary production (phytoplankton) making it available to higher trophic levels such as commercially important fishes. Therefore, copepod population growth is of critical importance to marine food webs. Fertilization limitation has been suggested as a constraint on copepod population growth but field surveys describing the prevalence of fertilization limitation are lacking. During my doctoral research, I explored the in situ fertilization success of two marine copepod species, Temora longicornis and Eurytemora herdmani in coastal Maine. I collected monthly zooplankton samples and analyzed clutches from field-caught females using an egg-staining technique. My results indicate that both species exhibit fertilization limitation in nature and the factors correlated with their fertilization span population, community and ecosystem level factors. To determine a causal relationship between predator density and copepod mating success, I conducted laboratory experiments to assess the effects of a common mysid shrimp predator, Neomysis americana on Eurytemora herdmani mating success. I subjected males and females to predators or predator cues. I found that the presence of a mysid predator, or only a predator cue, reduced copulation frequency and spermatophore transfer leading to a 38-61% decrease in E. herdmani nauplii production. These results suggest that mysid predators can constrain copepod population growth through non-consumptive processes. To determine the effects that resources can impose on copepod behavior, I explored the behavioral and fitness consequences of Temora longicornis ingesting Alexandrium fundyense, a phytoplankton species that forms harmful algal blooms in coastal Maine. My results suggest that ingesting A. fundyense causes copepods to swim faster and with more directional persistence compared to control algae. Temora longicornis increased their average swimming velocity by 24%, which leads to a 24-54% increase in their theoretical encounter rate with predators. Therefore, these findings suggest behaviorally mediated copepod-algal interactions may have significant impacts on harmful algal bloom dynamics and the fate of toxins in marine food webs.