Changes in the C, N, and P cycles by the predicted salps-krill shift in the southern ocean

Miquel Alcaraz, Rodrigo Almeda, Carlos M. Duarte, Burkhard Horstkotte, Sebastien Lasternas, Susana Agustí

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The metabolic carbon requirements and excretion rates of three major zooplankton groups in the Southern Ocean were studied in February 2009. The research was conducted in the framework of the ATOS research project as part of the Spanish contribution to the International Polar Year. The objective was to ascertain the possible consequences of the predicted zooplankton shift from krill to salps in the Southern Ocean for the cycling of biogenic carbon and the concentration and stoichiometry of dissolved inorganic nutrients. The carbon respiratory demands and NH4-N and PO4-P excretion rates of <5 mm size copepods, krill and salps were estimated by incubation experiments. The carbon-specific metabolic rates and N:P metabolic quotients of salps were higher than those of krill (furcilia spp. and adults) and copepods, and as expected there was a significant negative relation between average individual zooplankton biomass and their metabolic rates, each metabolic process showing a particular response that lead to different metabolic N:P ratios. The predicted change from krill to salps in the Southern Ocean would encompass not only the substitution of a pivotal group for Antarctic food webs (krill) by one with an indifferent trophic role (salps). In a zooplankton community dominated by salps the respiratory carbon demand by zooplankton will significantly increase, and therefore the proportion of primary production that should be allocated to compensate for the global respiratory C-losses of zooplankton. At the same time, the higher production by salps of larger, faster sinking fecal pellets will increase the sequestration rate of biogenic carbon. Similarly, the higher N and P excretion rates of zooplankton and the changes in the N:P stoichiometry of the metabolic products will modify the concentration and proportion of N and P in the nutrient pool, inducing quantitative and qualitative changes on primary producers that will translate to the whole Southern Ocean ecosystem.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Metabolism
  • Zooplankton
  • Carbon Cycling
  • Southern Ocean
  • Community Shifts
  • C:N:P Stoichiometry.


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