CIE Spotlight: Current-Oriented Swimming by Jellyfish and Its Role in Bloom Maintenance

Graeme H.

Graeme H.

TitleCurrent-Oriented Swimming by Jellyfish and Its Role in Bloom Maintenance.

Authors: Sabrina Fossette; Adrian Christopher Gleiss; Julien Chalumeau; Thomas Bastian; Claire Denise Armstrong; Sylvie Vandenabeele; Mikhail Karpytchev; Graeme Clive Hays.

Source: Current Biology, JAN 22, 2015 (Published Online).

Brief summary of the paper: Cross-flows (winds or currents) affect animal movements. Animals can temporarily be carried off course or permanently carried away from their preferred habitat by drift depending on their own traveling speed in relation to that of the flow. Animals able to only weakly fly or swim will be the most impacted. To circumvent this problem, animals must be able to detect the effects of flow on their movements and respond to it.

Here, we show that a weakly swimming organism, the jellyfish Rhizostoma octopus, can orientate its movements with respect to currents and that this behavior is key to the maintenance of blooms and essential to reduce the probability of stranding.

We combined in situ observations with first-time deployment of accelerometers on free-ranging jellyfish and simulated the behavior observed in wild jellyfish within a high-resolution hydrodynamic model.

Tagging jellyfish Credit: Gower Coast Adventures

Tagging jellyfish, credit: Gower Coast Adventures

Our results show that jellyfish can actively swim countercurrent in response to current drift, leading to significant life-history benefits, i.e., increased chance of survival and facilitated bloom formation. Current-oriented swimming may be achieved by jellyfish either directly detecting current shear across their body surface or indirectly assessing drift direction using other cues (e.g., magnetic, infrasound).

Our coupled behavioral-hydrodynamic model provides new evidence that current-oriented swimming contributes to jellyfish being able to form aggregations of hundreds to millions of individuals for up to several months, which may have substantial ecosystem and socioeconomic consequences. It also contributes to improve predictions of jellyfish blooms’ magnitude and movements in coastal waters.

More information about the research can be found on: