Sea-ice habitat minimizes grazing impact and predation risk for larval Antarctic krill

David, Carmen L.; Schaafsma, Fokje L.; Franeker, Jan A. van; Pakhomov, Evgeny A.; Hunt, Brian P.V.; Lange, Benjamin A.; Castellani, Giulia; Brandt, Angelika; Flores, Hauke


Survival of larval Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) during winter is largely dependent upon the presence of sea ice as it provides an important source of food and shelter. We hypothesized that sea ice provides additional benefits because it hosts fewer competitors and provides reduced predation risk for krill larvae than the water column. To test our hypothesis, zooplankton were sampled in the Weddell-Scotia Confluence Zone at the ice-water interface (0–2 m) and in the water column (0–500 m) during August–October 2013. Grazing by mesozooplankton, expressed as a percentage of the phytoplankton standing stock, was higher in the water column (1.97 ± 1.84%) than at the ice-water interface (0.08 ± 0.09%), due to a high abundance of pelagic copepods. Predation risk by carnivorous macrozooplankton, expressed as a percentage of the mesozooplankton standing stock, was significantly lower at the ice-water interface (0.83 ± 0.57%; main predators amphipods, siphonophores and ctenophores) than in the water column (4.72 ± 5.85%; main predators chaetognaths and medusae). These results emphasize the important role of sea ice as a suitable winter habitat for larval krill with fewer competitors and lower predation risk. These benefits should be taken into account when considering the response of Antarctic krill to projected declines in sea ice. Whether reduced sea-ice algal production may be compensated for by increased water column production remains unclear, but the shelter provided by sea ice would be significantly reduced or disappear, thus increasing the predation risk on krill larvae.