Krill feeding on sediment in the Gulf of Maine (North Atlantic)

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Krill are key members of many marine ecosystems, serving as a critical trophic link between microscopic organisms and large predators such as whales, fish, and seabirds. Krill feeding is thus important to ecosystem carbon cycling. Traditional approaches to determining in-situ krill feeding require a priori assumptions, and may have prey-type detection biases. We took a DNA-based approach to measuring in-situ feeding by northern krill Meganyctiphanes norvegica. The diversity of prey consumed by M. norvegica in situ was analyzed for 80 krill at 8 stations throughout the Gulf of Maine (North Atlantic) using peptide nucleic acid mediated polymerase chain reaction (PNA-PCR) clone library sequencing of 18S rDNA. Relative abundance of the 2 most common prey types was measured with quantitative PCR (qPCR) in the guts of 16 krill. The 245 prey sequences recovered from krill gut contents included copepods, salps, phytoplankton, and a poorly known organism found to be sediment associated. Calanus finmarchicus and the sediment- associated organism were found most commonly, at 7 and 8 stations, respectively, and their 18S rDNA was present in nearly equal quantities in individual krill guts. M. norvegica, like most krill, are typically considered planktivorous; thus krill feeding on sediment organisms represents an unrecognized pathway for carbon flow from the sediment to the pelagic. Calculations suggest that this unrecognized pathway could potentially bring over 100 000 t of carbon annually back into the Gulf of Maine pelagic ecosystem, equivalent to 4% of annual primary production, or the energy demands of 80% of the region's fin whale population. © Inter-Research 2012.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Marine Ecology Progress Series