Can gelatinous zooplankton influence the fate of crude oil in marine environments? Academic Article uri icon


  • Gelatinous zooplankton are known for their capacity to excrete copious amounts of mucus that can be utilized by other organisms. The release of mucus is exacerbated by stressful conditions. Despite the recognized importance of cnidarian mucus to production and material flux in marine ecosystems, the role of gelatinous zooplankton in influencing the fate of oil spills is unknown. In this study we used laboratory experiments to observe the influence of mucus from the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) on the aggregation and degradation of crude oil. The results show that jellyfish swimming in a dispersed solution of oil droplets produced copious amounts of mucus and the mucus aggregates that were shed by the animals contained 26 times more oil than the surrounding water. Incubation experiments showed that hydrocarbon degrading bacteria cell densities more than doubled in the presence of mucus and after 14days, resulted in a significant increase in oil degradation. These results suggest that jellyfish can aggregate dispersed oil droplets and embed them within a matrix that favors hydrocarbon degrading bacteria. While this study lends support to the hypothesis that the presence of gelatinous zooplankton can impact oil spills large scale mesocosm studies will be needed to fully quantify the influence on a natural system.

publication date

  • December 15, 2016