Jelly Takeover

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Science  17 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6036, pp. 1361
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6036.1361-b

Jellyfish are unpalatable to most potential consumers, apart from the hardiest. As the numbers of sea turtles and large fish have plummeted and phytoplankton blooms have increased, the jellies have moved in, and increasing numbers and volumes of jellyfish blooms are being reported. Locally, jellyfish can vacuum up a wide range of swimming prey, thus tipping food web dynamics and potentially altering biogeochemical outputs. Condon et al. have discovered that jellyfish blooms in tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay generate large quantities of low nitrogen–high carbon—content dissolved organic matter: jelly-DOM. This in turn selects for normally rare (in the marine environment) microorganisms, like gamma-proteobacteria, which apparently outcompete other microbial taxa to consume the jelly-DOM rapidly. However, their metabolic efficiency is poor, and they respire 45 to 73% of the dissolved carbon generated during a bloom, rather than recycling the carbon in the food web or allowing it to fix and sediment. So the consequences of shifting marine food webs to a preponderance of gelatinous creatures may affect not only fisheries but also atmospheric warming.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 108, 10.1073/pnas.1015782108 (2011).

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