Researcher discovers plankton adjusts to changing ocean temperatures

Mar 07, 2013 by Karin Slyker

(Phys.org) —It was often assumed marine plankton would be easy prey, especially in the dense viscosity of colder waters, but that is not necessarily so.

Imagine trying to swim through a pool of honey. Because of their small size, this is what swimming in water is like for tiny . So, it was often assumed they would be easy prey, especially in the dense viscosity of colder waters, but that is not necessarily so.

Texas Tech Associate Professor and Whitacre Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering Jian Sheng, along with biologists Brad Gemmell and Edward Buskey from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, have discovered new information that explains how these tiny organisms overcome this disadvantage.

Their paper, titled "A compensatory escape mechanism at low Reynolds number" was published in the current issue of .

"The purpose of the study was in trying to determine the at the very base of the food chain," Sheng said.

As one of the most abundant animal groups on the planet, many species, including many commercially important , rely on planktonic copepod nauplii at some point during their life cycle. Understanding the ability of these animals to respond to changes in the environment could have direct implications into understanding the future health of our oceans.

By independently varying temperature and viscosity, Sheng recorded their movements with 3-D high speed holographic techniques developed by the Sheng lab at Texas Tech.

"At 3,000 frames per second, it was like tracking a racecar through a microscope," Sheng said. "We were able to determine that the plankton adapted to changes in viscosity by altering the rhythm of its pulsing appendage."

The response, built-in to its natural muscle fiber, was only triggered by changes in temperature, Sheng said. It could not compensate for changes in viscosity due to , such as or oil spills.

Explore further: Team defines new biodiversity metric

Related Stories

Voracious comb jellyfish 'invisible' to prey

Oct 12, 2010

Despite its primitive structure, the North American comb jellyfish can sneak up on its prey like a high-tech stealth submarine, making it a successful predator. Researchers, including one from the University ...

Little creatures, big blooms

Feb 16, 2007

The San Francisco area is well-known for its beautiful waters. In fact, it is one of the most biologically productive areas in the United States’ waters.

Jellyfish replacing fish in over-exploited areas

Sep 16, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Over-fished commercial stocks of plankton-eating fish have been replaced in several locations by jellyfish species. This appears to be something of a paradox because fish move quickly and ...

Changes in water chemistry leave lake critters defenseless

Sep 06, 2012

Imagine that the players on your favourite football team were smaller than their opponents, and had to play without helmets or pads. Left defenseless, they would become easy prey for other teams. Similarly, changes in Canadian ...

Recommended for you

Team defines new biodiversity metric

10 hours ago

To understand how the repeated climatic shifts over the last 120,000 years may have influenced today's patterns of genetic diversity, a team of researchers led by City College of New York biologist Dr. Ana ...

Changes in farming and climate hurting British moths

17 hours ago

Britain's moths are feeling the pinch – threatened on one side by climate change and on the other by habitat loss and harmful farming methods. A new study gives the most comprehensive picture yet of trends ...

User comments : 0