Not all jellyfish are equal: isotopic evidence for inter- and intraspecific variation in jellyfish trophic ecology

Fleming, N. E.C., Harrod, C., Newton, J. and Houghton, J. D.R. (2015) Not all jellyfish are equal: isotopic evidence for inter- and intraspecific variation in jellyfish trophic ecology. PeerJ, 3, e1110. (doi: 10.7717/peerj.1110) (PMID:26244116) (PMCID:PMC4517961)

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Jellyfish are highly topical within studies of pelagic food-webs and there is a growing realisation that their role is more complex than once thought. Efforts being made to include jellyfish within fisheries and ecosystem models are an important step forward, but our present understanding of their underlying trophic ecology can lead to their oversimplification in these models. Gelatinous zooplankton represent a polyphyletic assemblage spanning >2,000 species that inhabit coastal seas to the deep-ocean and employ a wide variety of foraging strategies. Despite this diversity, many contemporary modelling approaches include jellyfish as a single functional group feeding at one or two trophic levels at most. Recent reviews have drawn attention to this issue and highlighted the need for improved communication between biologists and theoreticians if this problem is to be overcome. We used stable isotopes to investigate the trophic ecology of three co-occurring scyphozoan jellyfish species (Aurelia aurita, Cyanea lamarckii and C. capillata) within a temperate, coastal food-web in the NE Atlantic. Using information on individual size, time of year and δ 13 C and δ 15 N stable isotope values, we examined: (1) whether all jellyfish could be considered as a single functional group, or showed distinct inter-specific differences in trophic ecology; (2) Were size-based shifts in trophic position, found previously in A. aurita, a common trait across species?; (3) When considered collectively, did the trophic position of three sympatric species remain constant over time? Differences in δ 15 N (trophic position) were evident between all three species, with size-based and temporal shifts in δ 15 N apparent in A. aurita and C. capillata. The isotopic niche width for all species combined increased throughout the season, reflecting temporal shifts in trophic position and seasonal succession in these gelatinous species. Taken together, these findings support previous assertions that jellyfish require more robust inclusion in marine fisheries or ecosystem models.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This study was supported by a Department of Education and Learning (DEL) PhD studentship awarded to NECF by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Access to the Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility was supported by NERC.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Newton, Dr Jason
Authors: Fleming, N. E.C., Harrod, C., Newton, J., and Houghton, J. D.R.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:PeerJ
ISSN (Online):2167-8359
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 Fleming et al.
First Published:First published in PeerJ 3:e1110
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a creative commons license

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