"Now, the efficient foraging of salps on particles as small as a fraction of a micrometer introduces a substantial shortcut in this process, since digestion and excretion package these tiny particles into much larger particles, which thus sink a lot faster."
This process starts with the mesh made of fine mucus fibers inside the salp's hollow body.
Salps, which can live for weeks or months, swim and eat in rhythmic pulses, each of which draws seawater in through an opening at the front end of the animal. The mesh captures the food particles, then rolls into a strand and goes into the gut, where it is digested.
"It was assumed that very small cells or particles were eaten mainly by other microscopic consumers, like protozoans, or by a few specialized metazoan grazers like appendicularians," said Madin.
"This research indicates that salps can eat much smaller organisms, like bacteria and the smallest phytoplankton, organisms that are numerous and widely distributed in the ocean."
The work, also funded by the WHOI Ocean Life Institute, "implies that salps are more efficient vacuum cleaners than we thought," said Stocker.
"Their amazing performance relies on a feat of bioengineering--the production of a nanometer-scale mucus net--the biomechanics of which remain a mystery."
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation