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Body size- and season-dependent diel vertical migration of mesozooplankton resolved acoustically in the San Diego Trough

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Diel vertical migration (DVM) is a common behavior among marine organisms to balance the trade-off between surface feeding opportunities and predation-related mortality risk. Body size is a master trait that impacts predation risk to both visual and nonvisual predators. Acoustic measurements from the autonomous Zooglider revealed size-dependent DVM behaviors in the San Diego Trough. Dual frequency (200 and 1000 kHz) backscatter, in conjunction with physical properties of the ambient water and optical imaging of zooplankton, were recorded during 12 Zooglider missions over 2 yr. Acoustic size-categories were identified based on the theoretical scattering properties of dominant taxonomic groups identified optically by the Zoocam. Acoustic modeling suggests that the measured acoustic backscatter in this region is largely dominated by copepods, with appreciable contributions from other taxa. We found that larger organisms migrated deeper (245–227 m) and faster (> 20 m h−1) compared to smaller organisms (156 m, > 15 m h−1). Larger organisms entered the upper layer of the water column later in the evening (0.2–1.5 h later) and descended into deeper water earlier in the morning (0.4–3.7 h earlier) than smaller-bodied organisms, consistent with body size-dependent visual predation risk. The variability in daytime depths occupied by small, intermediate, and large-bodied backscatterers was related to the depth of the euphotic zone, again consistent with light-dependent risk of predation.

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