Layers of Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba : are they just long krill swarms?
Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba Dana, a major component in the southern ocean food web, typically occur in aggregations that range from small, discrete swarms and schools through to layers and superswarms that extend horizontally for several kilometres. A large Longhurst–Hardy plankton recorder has been used to obtain high-resolution serial samples from within two layers (up to 4 km in length) that were found near Elephant Island, north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Krill length, sex and maturity stage, net and acoustic estimates of number density are shown to vary significantly within these large layers. The variation occurring within a single layer is comparable with that occurring in a set of 38 swarms sampled contemporaneously with the layers. Thus, unlike a krill swarm, a whole krill layer may account for a substantial amount of the variation in the local krill population, although individual parts of the layer cannot be considered in this way. The layers play an important role in the ecology of the krill within the area. Firstly, these large layers may contain a significant proportion of the biomass within an area. Secondly, the structure of the layers gives some insight into the ways in which krill swarm formation and dispersal may be occurring.