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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Nov 22;267(1459):2327-31.

Induced pigmentation in zooplankton: a trade-off between threats from predation and ultraviolet radiation.

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  • 1Institute of Ecology/Limnology, Ecology Building, Lund University, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is harmful to all life, and the ongoing depletion of the ozone layer is likely to affect interactions among both terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Some organisms have evolved adaptations to reduce radiation damage, such as the various types of protective pigmentation of freshwater zooplankton. However, strong pigmentation also increases vulnerability to visually hunting predators. Hence, where both UV radiation and predation are intense, zooplankton may be sandwiched between conflicting selective pressures: to be pigmented and to be transparent at the same time. Here, I show that the level of pigmentation in copepods is up to ten times higher in lakes without predatory fishes than where fishes are present. Moreover, animals from the same population exposed to either UV light or predator scent showed a 10% difference in pigmentation after only four days, suggesting that pigmentation is an inducible trait. Hence, individual copepods are not passive victims of selective predation or radiation damage, but adjust the level of pigmentation according to the prevailing threat. The ability to adjust pigmentation level rapidly may be especially useful in situations where risk assessment is difficult due to strong seasonal and spatial variation in risk variables, such as in Arctic regions. With progressive thinning of the ozone layer, the ability of some but not other organisms to adjust protection against UV radiation may lead to counter-intuitive, large-scale alterations in freshwater food webs.

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