Impacts of Hypoxia on Zooplankton Spatial Distributions in the Northern Gulf of Mexico
The northern Gulf of Mexico (NGOMEX) was surveyed to examine the broad-scale spatial patterns and inter-relationships between hypoxia (< 2 mg L-1 dissolved oxygen) and zooplankton biovolume. We used an undulating towed body equipped with sensors for conductivity, temperature, depth, oxygen, fluorescence, and an optical plankton counter to sample water column structure, oxygen, and zooplankton at high spatial resolution (1 m-vertical; 0.25-1 km-horizontal). We contrast the distribution of zooplankton during summer surveys with different freshwater input, stratification, and horizontal and vertical extent of bottom-water hypoxia. Bottom-water hypoxia did not appear to influence the total amount of zooplankton biomass present in the water column or the areal integration of zooplankton standing stock in the NGOMEX region surveyed. However, where there were hypoxic bottom waters, zooplankton shifted their vertical distribution to the upper water column during the day where they normally would reside in deeper and darker waters. When bottom waters were normoxic (> 2 mg L-1 dissolved oxygen), the daytime median depth of the water column zooplankton was on average 7 m deeper than the median depth of zooplankton in water columns with hypoxic bottom waters. A reduction in larger zooplankton when there were hypoxic bottom waters suggests that if zooplankton cannot migrate to deeper, darker water under hypoxic conditions, they may be more susceptible to size-selective predation by visual predators. Thus, habitat compression in the northern Gulf of Mexico due to hypoxic bottom water may have implications for trophic transfer by increasing the contact between predators and prey.
Keywords: Gulf of Mexico, Hypoxia, Spatial distributions, Zooplankton