Dark-Season Survival Strategies of Coastal Zone Zooplankton in the Canadian Arctic


  • Robert J. Conover
  • Timothy D. Siferd




Algae, Animal food, Animal growth, Animal reproduction, Bioclimatology, Chlorophyll, Cold adaptation, Cold physiology, Copepoda, Lipids, Marine ecology, Metabolism, Phytoplankton, Predation, Primary production (Biology), Sea ice ecology, Sedimentation, Winter ecology, Zooplankton, Starvation, Enzymes, Antarctic waters, Barrow Strait, Nunavut, Northwest Passage, Polar regions


For herbivorous zooplankton, surviving the arctic winter requires that sufficient energy be stored in summer to enable ten months or more of possible starvation. Energy and materials for reproduction may also be totally derived from stored lipid and bodily protein. The predominant storage products are wax esters, often visible as translucent droplets or a fusiform inclusion in the tissues. Lipid may constitute more than 50% of dry weight at the end of summer. Reproduction is synchronized with season and environmental conditions to enable offspring to exploit the brief period of intense primary production. So far as we know, fertilization occurs only once in the copepods studied here, which make up more than 98% of the total zooplankton by numbers, and males are short lived, but in one species (Calanus hyperboreus) females may survive into a second productive season, thereby storing sufficient reserves to spawn a second time. Several plaktonic species, including larval invertebrates, start growth early by utilizing algae that develop on the under-ice surface serveral months before the pelagic phytoplankton bloom. The minimum water temperature (-1.8 C) is constant and much warmer than the atmosphere, so overwintering should be less stressful for aquatic species than for terrestrial forms. Additional adaptations used by zooplankton in winter include seeking deeper water to escape predation, reducing swimming costs by regulating buoyancy, and further lowering metabolic rates by limiting synthesis of enzymes and increasing the fraction of lipid used in respiration.

Key words: copepods, zooplankton, phytoplankton, ice-algae, fast ice, lipid, overwintering, survival strategies, growth, reproduction