Responses to extreme seasonality in food supply: diet plasticity in Antarctic brachiopods
The ice gouged, shallow, polar seabed is a challenging place to live, but suspension feeders are particularly rich and abundant there. The extreme seasonality of food supply from phytoplankton at high latitudes, combined with very stable temperatures has not, however, reduced the range of life history adaptations. Some species extend feeding and growing periods by concentrating on smaller, lower biomass but longer duration, fractions of phytoplankton. Here we show that shallow-water Antarctic brachiopods can switch from pelagic to benthic food sources when required. Like most suspension feeders they utilise the extremely abundant summer phytoplankton blooms, but unlike many other groups brachiopods do not appear to become dormant in winter. In shallow sites around the world wind and wave action resuspend benthic material, making it available to filter feeders. Widespread ice disturbance at polar latitudes may also cause resuspension enhancing local food supply. Articulate brachiopods have blind-ended guts and probably feed little once a large bolus of food has been collected, so a resuspension event may represent a significant enhancement of yearly food availability. The key to their ability to utilise unpredictable food sources is the same trait responsible for their polar success; very low maintenance costs and a catholic diet. Utilising resuspended material could be an important factor in global brachiopod distributions. Previously difficult to explain high brachiopod densities in New Zealand, Northwest Europe and the Canadian Pacific Coast may occur because these areas are all in the worldrsquos windiest, and hence strongest resuspension, latitudes.
Authors: Peck, Lloyd S., Barnes, David K.A., Willmott, Joanne