Global satellite-observed daily vertical migrations of ocean animals

Type Article
Date 2019-12
Language English
Author(s) Behrenfeld Michael J.1, Gaube Peter2, Della Penna Alice2, 3, O’malley Robert T.1, Burt William J.4, 5, Hu Yongxiang6, Bontempi Paula S.7, Steinberg Deborah K.8, Boss Emmanuel S.9, Siegel David A.10, 11, Hostetler Chris A.6, 12, Tortell Philippe D.4, Doney Scott C.13
Affiliation(s) 1 : Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
2 : Applied Physics Laboratory, Air-Sea Interaction and Remote Sensing Department, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
3 : Laboratoire des Sciences de l’Environnement Marin (LEMAR), UMR 6539 CNRS-Ifremer-IRD-UBO-Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer (IUEM), Plouzané, France
4 : Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
5 : College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, USA
6 : NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, USA
7 : Earth Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters, Washington, DC, USA
8 : Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary, Gloucester Point, VA, USA
9 : School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA
10 : Earth Research Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
11 : Department of Geography, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
12 : Botany Department, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
13 : Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
Source Nature (0028-0836) (Springer Science and Business Media LLC), 2019-12 , Vol. 576 , N. 7786 , P. 257-261
DOI 10.1038/s41586-019-1796-9
WOS© Times Cited 82

Every night across the world’s oceans, numerous marine animals arrive at the surface of the ocean to feed on plankton after an upward migration of hundreds of metres. Just before sunrise, this migration is reversed and the animals return to their daytime residence in the dark mesopelagic zone (at a depth of 200–1,000 m). This daily excursion, referred to as diel vertical migration (DVM), is thought of primarily as an adaptation to avoid visual predators in the sunlit surface layer1,2 and was first recorded using ship-net hauls nearly 200 years ago3. Nowadays, DVMs are routinely recorded by ship-mounted acoustic systems (for example, acoustic Doppler current profilers). These data show that night-time arrival and departure times are highly conserved across ocean regions4 and that daytime descent depths increase with water clarity4,5, indicating that animals have faster swimming speeds in clearer waters4. However, after decades of acoustic measurements, vast ocean areas remain unsampled and places for which data are available typically provide information for only a few months, resulting in an incomplete understanding of DVMs. Addressing this issue is important, because DVMs have a crucial role in global ocean biogeochemistry. Night-time feeding at the surface and daytime metabolism of this food at depth provide an efficient pathway for carbon and nutrient export6,7,8. Here we use observations from a satellite-mounted light-detection-and-ranging (lidar) instrument to describe global distributions of an optical signal from DVM animals that arrive in the surface ocean at night. Our findings reveal that these animals generally constitute a greater fraction of total plankton abundance in the clear subtropical gyres, consistent with the idea that the avoidance of visual predators is an important life strategy in these regions. Total DVM biomass, on the other hand, is higher in more productive regions in which the availability of food is increased. Furthermore, the 10-year satellite record reveals significant temporal trends in DVM biomass and correlated variations in DVM biomass and surface productivity. These results provide a detailed view of DVM activities globally and a path for refining the quantification of their biogeochemical importance.

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Behrenfeld Michael J., Gaube Peter, Della Penna Alice, O’malley Robert T., Burt William J., Hu Yongxiang, Bontempi Paula S., Steinberg Deborah K., Boss Emmanuel S., Siegel David A., Hostetler Chris A., Tortell Philippe D., Doney Scott C. (2019). Global satellite-observed daily vertical migrations of ocean animals. Nature, 576(7786), 257-261. Publisher's official version : , Open Access version :