Self-organisation of zooplankton communities produces similar food chain lengths throughout the ocean

Type Article
Date 2022-01
Language English
Author(s) Everett JasonORCID1, 2, 3, Heneghan Ryan4, Blanchard Julia5, Suthers IainORCID3, 6, Pakhomov Evgeny7, 8, 9, Sykes PatrickORCID1, Schoeman DavidORCID10, 11, Baird MarkORCID12, Basedow Sünnje LinnéaORCID13, Błachowiak-Samołyk Katarzyna, Heath Michael15, Hopcroft Russell16, Huggett JennyORCID17, 18, Huret MartinORCID19, Kimmel DavidORCID20, Labat Jean-Philippe21, Lopes Rubens22, Marcolin Catarina23, Nogueira EnriqueORCID24, Noyon Margaux25, Schultes Sabine26, Sourisseau Marc27, Swadling Kerrie5, Trudnowska EmiliaORCID14, Richardson Anthony1, 2
Affiliation(s) 1 : School of Mathematics and Physics, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
2 : CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Queensland Biosciences Precinct, St Lucia, QLD, Australia
3 : Centre for Marine Science and Innovation, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
4 : School of Mathematical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
5 : Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS, Australia
6 : Sydney Institute of Marine Science, Mosman, NSW, Australia
7 : Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
8 : Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
9 : Hakai Institute, Heriot Bay, BC, Canada
10 : Global-Change Ecology Research Group, School of Science, Technology and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, QLD, Australia
11 : Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
12 : CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, TAS, Australia
13 : Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, 9037 Tromsø, Norway
14 : Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences, Sopot, Poland
15 : University of Strathclyde, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, 26 Richmond Street Glasgow G1 1XH, UK
16 : Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK, USA
17 : Oceans and Coasts Research, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Private Bag X4390, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
18 : Department of Biological Sciences and Marine Research Institute, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
19 : DECOD (Ecosystem Dynamics and Sustainability), IFREMER, INRAE, Institut Agro - Agrocampus Ouest, Brest, France
20 : Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115 USA
21 : Sorbonne Université, CNRS, Laboratoire d'Océanographie de Villefranche (UMR 7093), Villefranche-sur-mer, France
22 : Department of Biological Oceanography, Oceanographic Institute, University of São Paulo, São Paulo 05508-120, Brazil
23 : Environmental Sciences Training Center, Federal University of Southern Bahia (UFSB), Rodovia Porto Seguro - Eunápolis, BR-367, Km 10, Porto Seguro, Bahia, 45810-000, Brazil
24 : Instituto Español de Ocanografía (COV), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (IEOCSIC), Subida al Radio Faro 50, 36390-Vigo, Spain
25 : Department of Oceanography and Institute for Coastal and Marine Research, Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha, 6001, South Africa
26 : Aquatic Ecology, Faculty of Biology, LMU Munich, Großhaderner Str. 2 82152 Planegg- Martinsried, Germany
27 : IFREMER, French Institute for Sea Research, DYNECO PELAGOS, 29280 Plouzané, France.
Source Under Review Nature portfolio (Research Square Platform LLC), 2022-01 , N. Version 1 , P. 45p.
DOI 10.21203/
Note This is a preprint ; it has not been peer reviewed by a journal

For over 50 years, the conceptualisation of low-nutrient oligotrophic systems having longer food chains and thus lower energy transfer to fish than their high-nutrient eutrophic counterparts1 has achieved the status of an ecological paradigm. However, recent global assessments indicate global fish biomass could be much higher than previously thought2–4, suggesting that our traditional understanding of food webs may need to be revisited. Here, we challenge the classical paradigm by exploring the role of zooplankton in food webs across the world’s oceans. Using observed zooplankton size spectra, and output from a size-spectrum model that resolves nine zooplankton groups, we conclude that food chains in oligotrophic (low-nutrient) and eutrophic (high-nutrient) systems have similar lengths. We offer a compelling hypothesis to explain this emergent pattern: self-organisation of zooplankton groups across the global productivity gradient regulates food chain length. We find that in oligotrophic systems the increased carnivory and longer food chains are offset by relatively large gelatinous filter feeders eating the dominant small phytoplankton, resulting in shorter-than-expected food chains, but decreasing food quality for fish. Our findings highlight the pivotal role zooplankton play in regulating energy transfer. Better resolution of zooplankton groups, their feeding relationships and carbon content in models will increase our ability to estimate current global fish biomass 5, project future fish biomass under climate change6–8, and provide more-robust forecasts of nutrient9 and carbon cycling10.

Full Text
File Pages Size Access
Preprint 45 1 MB Open access
Top of the page

How to cite 

Everett Jason, Heneghan Ryan, Blanchard Julia, Suthers Iain, Pakhomov Evgeny, Sykes Patrick, Schoeman David, Baird Mark, Basedow Sünnje Linnéa, Błachowiak-Samołyk Katarzyna, Heath Michael, Hopcroft Russell, Huggett Jenny, Huret Martin, Kimmel David, Labat Jean-Philippe, Lopes Rubens, Marcolin Catarina, Nogueira Enrique, Noyon Margaux, Schultes Sabine, Sourisseau Marc, Swadling Kerrie, Trudnowska Emilia, Richardson Anthony (2022). Self-organisation of zooplankton communities produces similar food chain lengths throughout the ocean. Under Review Nature portfolio, (Version 1), 45p. Publisher's official version : , Open Access version :