University Of Tasmania

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Why do marine endotherms eat gelatinous prey?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 15:08 authored by Thiebot, J-B, Julie McInnesJulie McInnes
There is growing evidence that gelatinous zooplanktonic organisms (“gelata”) are regular prey for marine endotherms. Yet the consumption of gelata is intriguing in terms of the energy reward, because endotherms have a high energy demand and the consumption of gelata provides little energy return. In this paper, we take advantage of recent advances in diet analysis methods, notably animal-borne video loggers and DNA analysis in seabirds, to examine our current understanding of this interaction. We suggest that several hypotheses commonly raised to explain predation on gelata (including increased biomass, reduced prey availability, and secondary ingestion) have already been tested and many lack strong support. We emphasize that gelata are widely consumed by endotherms (121 cases reported across 82 species of seabirds, marine mammals, and endothermic fishes) from the Arctic to the Antarctic but noticeably less in the tropics. We propose that in line with research from terrestrial ecosystems atypical food items might be beneficial to the consumers in a non-energetic context, encompassing self-medication, and responding to homeostatic challenges. Changing the “last resort” context for a “functional response” framework may improve our understanding of widespread predation on gelata. Further biochemical analyses are needed to formally examine this perspective.


Publication title

ICES Journal of Marine Science








Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Academic Press Ltd Elsevier Science Ltd

Place of publication

24-28 Oval Rd, London, England, Nw1 7Dx

Rights statement

Copyright 2019 International Council for the Exploration of the Sea

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of coastal and estuarine ecosystems; Biodiversity in Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments