Fish or jellies—a question of visibility?

Eiane, Ketil, Dag L. Aksnes, Espen Bagøien, Stein Kaartvedt

Limnol. Oceanogr., 44(5), 1999, 1352-1357 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.1999.44.5.1352

ABSTRACT: Light is an important limiting factor for the visual foraging process in fishes, and the light regime may potentially affect the competition between visual and tactile predators. We investigated two equal-sized fjords of quite different pelagic food web structure. Earlier studies have revealed that the jellyfish Periphylla periphylla dominates Lurefjorden, while fish predators dominate in the other fjord, Masfjorden. Furthermore, the mesozooplankton stock of Lurefjorden is larger in both total biomass and size of the individuals. Hence, earlier hypotheses linking the competitive advantage of tactile gelatinous plankton predators to smaller sized mesozooplankton communities are unable to explain the present phenomenon. To see if the difference in the pelagic biota of the two fjords could be associated with characteristics of the light regime, we measured the light absorbance in the basin water of the two fjords. We found that, due to a slightly stronger influence of coastal water in the basin water of Lurefjorden, the exponential light absorbance coefficient below 100 m is two to three times higher there than in other fjords. This results in a reduction in light flux of several orders of magnitude, effectively reducing the possibility of visual foraging. The tactile mode of predation in jellyfish, however, is not influenced, and we hypothesize that the visibility regime has a decisive role in structuring the pelagic food webs of the two fjords.

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