Jellyfish can be a nuisance to bathers and boaters in the Chesapeake Bay on the United States' East Coast and many other places along the world's coasts.
A new study by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) shows that jellyfish also have a more significant impact, drastically altering marine food webs by shunting food energy toward bacteria.
An apparent increase in the size and frequency of jellyfish blooms in coastal and estuarine waters around the world during the last few decades means that jellies' impact on marine food webs is likely to increase in the future.
The results of the study, led by recent VIMS graduate Rob Condon--now a scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) in Alabama--appear in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
His co-authors are VIMS scientists Deborah Steinberg and Deborah Bronk, Paul del Giorgio of the Universit du Qubec Montral, Thierry Bouvier of Universit Montpellier in France, Monty Graham of DISL and Hugh Ducklow of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"This intriguing finding demonstrates that changes at the top of the food web can affect even the most fundamental ecosystem processes," says David Garrison, director of NSF's Biological Oceanography Program.
Condon conducted his field studies by sampling jellyfish blooms in the York River, a tributary of lower Chesapeake Bay.
The team's experimental work took place in laboratories at VIMS, and in Canada and France.
The researchers tracked the flow of food energy in the lab by measuring the amount of carbon taken up and released by jellyfish and bacteria within closed containers during "incubation" experiments of varying length. Carbon is the "currency" of energy exchange in living systems.
"Jellyfish are voracious pred
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation