Plankton reach new heights in effort to avoid predators
Gemmell, Brad J.
Strickler, J. Rudi
Buskey, Edward J.
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The marine environment associated with the air-water interface (neuston) provides an important food source to pelagic organisms where subsurface prey is limited. However, studies on predator-prey interactions within this environment are lacking. Copepods are known to produce strong escape jumps in response to predators but must contend with a low Reynolds number environment where viscous forces limit escape distance. All previous work on copepods interaction with predators has focused on a liquid environment. Here, we describe a novel anti-predator behavior in two neustonic copepod species where individuals frequently exit the water surface and travel many times their own body length through air to avoid predators. Using both field recordings with natural predators and high speed laboratory recordings we obtain detailed kinematics of this behavior, and estimate energetic cost associated with this behavior. We demonstrate that despite losing up to 88% of their initial kinetic energy, copepods which break the water surface travel significantly further than escapes underwater and successfully exit the perceptive field of the predator. This behavior provides an effective defense mechanism against subsurface feeding visual predators and the results provide insight into trophic interactions within the neustonic environment.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2012. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of The Royal Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279 (2012): 2786-2792, doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.0163.