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Density-dependent mortality in an oceanic copepod population

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Planktonic copepods are primary consumers in the ocean and are perhaps the most numerous metazoans on earth. Secondary production by these zooplankton supports most food webs of the open sea, directly affecting pelagic fish populations and the biological pump of carbon into the deep ocean. Models of marine ecosystems are quite sensitive to the formulation of the term for zooplankton mortality, although there are few data available to constrain mortality rates in such models. Here we present the first evidence for nonlinear, density-dependent mortality rates of open-ocean zooplankton. A high-frequency time series reveals that per capita mortality rates of eggs of Calanus finmarchicus Gunnerus are a function of the abundance of adult females and juveniles. The temporal dynamics of zooplankton populations can be influenced as much by time-dependent mortality rates as by variations in 'bottom up' forcing. The functional form and rates chosen for zooplankton mortality in ecosystem models can alter the balance of pelagic ecosystems, modify elemental fluxes into the ocean's interior, and modulate interannual variability in pelagic ecosystems.

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