Zooplankton dynamics and ecophysiology in the St. Lucia Estuary, with emphasis on the dominant mysid Mesopodopsis africana.
Carrasco, Nicola Kim.
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The St. Lucia Estuary, Africa’s largest estuarine lake, is currently experiencing an unprecedented crisis related to freshwater deprivation. This has resulted in a reversed salinity gradient and drastically reduced water levels. These harsh environmental conditions, combined with the limited connection with the open ocean have lead to a loss of biodiversity in the system. The dominant zooplankton taxa include the copepods Pseudodiaptomus stuhlmanni and Acartia natalensis and the mysid Mesopodopsis africana. In March 2007, the closed-mouth state was briefly interrupted by an open-mouth phase, induced by a unique combination of extreme climatic events. With the incoming seawater, previously excluded marine taxa re-entered the system, increasing its diversity significantly. Salinity and temperature have been referred to as driving forces in aquatic ecosystems. The tolerance limits of the key mysid species were, therefore, investigated. Results showed that M. africana has some of the highest recorded upper salinity and temperature tolerances for a mysid. Because of their high biomass, mysids have the potential to affect microalgal standing stocks. Their grazing dynamics (in relation to autotrophic food availability) were investigated in two contrasting environments within the estuary. Ingestion rates and subsequently population grazing impacts on the total microalgal standing stocks were higher at the Mouth than at Charters Creek. This was attributed to the harsh environmental conditions in the latter region. Despite the lower ingestion rates exhibited here, these mysids seem capable of meeting their energetic requirements from a microalgal diet alone. Stable isotope data, though, show that they also utilise a heterotrophic diet. Results of the mixed model SIAR v 4 revealed the contribution of the different carbon sources to the diet of M. africana. Most unique was this mysid’s ability to modify its diet on both short temporal and spatial scales. Resource utilization between the dominant taxa was also compared. All three taxa appear to be opportunistic feeders, capable of incorporating a number of food items in their diet. Between food partitioning, predator avoidance strategies, and their common ability to survive in highly dynamic environments, these species are capable of co-existing, and together contribute to the overall resilience so far shown by the system.