Original Articles

Mesozooplankton dynamics in the Benguela ecosystem, with emphasis on the herbivorous copepods


Recent research developments on the ecology, dynamics and trophic position of copepods in the Benguela ecosystem are synthesized. Attention is focused on herbivorous species of the southern Benguela and how they cope with the physical and biological variability characteristic of this upwelling region. Copepods constitute on average approximately half of the total zooplankton carbon and. are most abundant during the upwelling season. They are able to maintain large population densities within local coastal upwelling areas by combining ontogenetically based vertical migration behaviour with features of the current system. Some species have developed finely tuned strategies to overcome periods of starvation between upwelling bouts by storing lipid reserves or by entering temporary developmental arrest. In situ measurements of production rates of local species are among the highest recorded for copepods. Despite an apparent excess of food, copepods exert only limited impact on the phytoplankton, removing on average <25 per cent of that available daily. Indirect estimates of carbon flux indicate that 11–25 per cent of copepod daily ration is used for egestion of faecal pellets. Copepods are the preferred prey of a wide variety of invertebrate and vertebrate predators. Large copepods in particular are important in the diet of commercially exploited pelagic fish. Localized areas of low abundance of copepods have been found in association with high densities of anchovy during peak spawning and recruitment periods. Copepods may therefore constitute a central limiting factor for pelagic fish production in the southern Benguela.

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