Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Deborah K Steinberg

Committee Member

Mark J Brush

Committee Member

Robert H Condon

Committee Member

Emmett Duffy

Committee Member

Courtney K Harris


Gelatinous zooplankton (GZ; cnidarians, ctenophores, and pelagic tunicates) periodically are the dominant members of the zooplankton throughout the majority of the world’s oceans. their unique body plans and life cycles allow them to rapidly take advantage of favorable environmental conditions, which has far-ranging consequences for food web dynamics and biogeochemical cycles. GZ populations have been speculated to respond to anthropogenic changes, but few long-term studies exist to test this hypothesis and even fewer have examined the consequent effects on carbon export. I analyzed two long-term time series in the Chesapeake Bay and one in the Sargasso Sea for annual and interannual changes in GZ populations and the environmental drivers of these changes. I also conducted mesocosm experiments in the Chesapeake Bay and developed a carbon flux model for the Sargasso Sea to evaluate the role that GZ play in vertical carbon flux in these two regions. In the Chesapeake Bay, summer populations of the dominant scyphozoan medusae, Chrysaora quinquecirrha, are positively correlated with spring salinity and negatively with dissolved oxygen concentrations. C. quinquecirrha biovolume has been decreasing from 1985-2011, reducing predation pressure on the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi, with cascading effects on copepod abundances. This top-down control of the food web extends to changes in vertical carbon flux, with the presence of M. leidyi reducing copepod fecal pellet flux by 50%. In the Sargasso Sea, large salp blooms can completely dominate the zooplankton community, and both cyclonic mesoscale eddies and seasonal changes in primary production can regulate annual salp population dynamics. Long-term salp population trends are correlated with changes in decadal climate oscillations, and a long-term increase in the most abundant salp species, Thalia democratica, was observed from 1994-2011. During blooms, salps can graze more than 100% of the primary production, and rapidly export carbon to depth through sinking fecal pellets and carcasses, and through active transport via respiration at depth. This carbon export to 200 m (average of 2.3 mg C m-2 d-1) is equivalent to 11% of the measured sediment trap flux at the same depth, but salp fecal pellets and carcasses attenuate slowly and can be equivalent to > 100% of measured sediment trap carbon at 3200 m, representing a large export of carbon to the bathypelagic zone during salp blooms. GZ populations in both the Chesapeake Bay and Sargasso Sea are sensitive to seasonal changes in the environment on annual and interannual time scales. Long-term changes in GZ abundances could continue into the future, causing corresponding changes in carbon export.



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