Abundance, distribution, and feeding ecology of Pyrosoma atlanticum in the Northern California Current
ABSTRACT: During 2016−2018, unprecedented aggregations of the colonial pelagic tunicate Pyrosoma atlanticum were observed in the Northern California Current (NCC). Pyrosomes are common in tropical and sub-tropical ocean waters, but little is known about their abundance, distribution, and trophic ecology in mid-latitude systems. To assess these factors, pyrosomes were collected during cruises in the NCC in May and August 2017. A generalized additive model (GAM) was used to identify relationships between in situ environmental variables (temperature, salinity, fluorescence) and distribution and abundance patterns of pyrosomes in May 2017. Fatty acid (FA) profiles were then characterized as diet indicators, and bulk stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen was used to examine spatial variations in potential food sources and trophic level. The GAM identified sea surface temperature and surface salinity as significant variables related to pyrosome densities. The most abundant FA in the pyrosomes was docosahexanoic acid(22:6ω3), which serves in pelagic systems as a biomarker for dinoflagellates. Common FA biomarkers for bacteria, carnivory, and dinoflagellates differed by latitude, suggesting that pyrosomes have different diets over a broad latitudinal range. The δ15N values of P. atlanticum indicate that pyrosomes may be feeding at a relatively low trophic level compared to other zooplankton groups in this region. Offshore pyrosomes had lower δ13C values than those collected on the shelf, suggesting incorporation of nearshore carbon in pyrosome tissues. Previously documented rapid reproduction and growth of pyrosomes coupled with efficient feeding behavior for common NCC plankters may support their continued presence in this mid-latitude region.
Authors: Julie B. Schram, Hilarie L. Sorensen, Richard D. Brodeur, Aaron W. E. Galloway, Kelly R. Sutherland