Nocturnal light and lunar cycle effects on diel migration of micronekton

Benoit-Bird, Kelly J., Whitlow W. L. Au, Daniel W. Wisdom

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(5), 2009, 1789-1800 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.5.1789

ABSTRACT: The roles of nocturnal light and lunar phase in the diel migration of micronekton from a nearshore scattering layer were examined. Migration patterns were measured over six complete lunar cycles using moored upward-looking echosounders while nocturnal surface irradiance was recorded. We hypothesized that animals would remain at a constant isolume at night despite changes in nocturnal illumination between nights. The scattering layer migrated closer to the surface during dark nights than during well-lit ones. However, this movement was not enough to compensate for observed changes in light, and at night animals often remained at light levels higher than they experience at depth during the day. Light and lunar cycle were not completely coupled, allowing separation of the light and lunar phases. Contrary to the initial hypothesis, lunar phase accounted for substantially more of the variability in layer migration than surface irradiance, showing strong effects on the scattering layer’s depth and animal density within the layer. Changes in layer depth and animal density were amplified a small amount by variations in light level but were minimized by the seafloor in shallow areas. The horizontal component of the scattering layer’s migration was also affected by lunar phase, with animals remaining further offshore in deeper waters during nights near and during the full moon, even when these were not the nights with the highest light levels. These results suggest that moonlight may be a cue for an endogenous lunar rhythm in the process of diel migration rather than a direct cause.

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