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The overwinter survival mechanisms of Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba , are poorly characterized, especially for juveniles. It has been suggested that juveniles adopt a mix of strategies characteristic of both larvae and adults. Like larvae, they may feed opportunistically throughout winter when food is available, and like adults they may be able to suppress their metabolism when food is scarce. In this study we look at the overwinter strategies of juvenile krill and how their reproductive development changes when energy input exceeds what is necessary for survival. We take a closer look at how the sexual maturation of juvenile krill progresses in response to different environmental conditions throughout the fall and winter. We exposed juvenile Antarctic krill to four different “food environment scenarios”, supplementing them with various diets from May to September 2019 that were representative of environmental conditions that they may encounter in different regions of the Western Antarctic Peninsula during autumn and winter. Each month, we measured the physiology and condition of the krill, and assessed the reproductive development of females. We found that when female juvenile krill have greater energy reserves than what is needed to survive the winter, they will begin to sexually mature. Further, when there are sufficient levels of the fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 16:4 ( n-1 ), krill are likely to be in a more reproductive advanced stage. However, when lipids, EPA, DHA and 16:4 ( n-1 ) are depleted throughout the winter, juvenile female krill lose their ability to develop reproductively. We also found that sexual development is an energy intensive process that requires high respiration rates in juvenile krill. Furthermore, when juvenile females expend energy maturing, their physiological condition declines. This trade-off between early reproductive development and condition in juvenile female krill has important implications for individual health and population fecundity. Gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms behind juvenile krill winter survival strategies and their consequences will allow us to predict how future change at the western Antarctic Peninsula may affect krill population dynamics, especially in light of a warming climate.more » « less
In recent years, substantial efforts have been made to understand the implications of climate change on Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba , because of their pivotal role in the Southern Ocean food web and in biogeochemical cycling. Winter is one of the least studied seasons in Antarctica and we have limited understanding about the strategies Antarctic krill use to survive the winter. In particular, data on the winter physiology and condition of juvenile Antarctic krill are severely lacking. From May to September (the austral autumn-winter) of 2019, we maintained juvenile Antarctic krill in large (1,330 L) aquarium tanks at Palmer Station, Antarctica and, at monthly time intervals, measured their physiology and condition. Each tank served as a “food environment scenario”, representing possible food environments the krill may encounter during winter along the Western Antarctic Peninsula. We found that, unlike adults, juvenile krill maintain relatively high respiration rates through the winter and respond positively to increased food concentrations by increasing their ingestion rates. Unlike larval krill, juveniles use lipid stores accumulated during the summer and autumn to sustain themselves through periods of starvation in the winter. We used our empirically derived measurements of physiology and condition to estimate the energy budget and growth potential of juvenile krill during the winter. We found that, given their comparatively high respiration rates, small juvenile krill (20 mg dry weight) would need to encounter food at concentrations of ~ 0.15 mg C L -1 daily to avoid loss of body carbon. Without sufficient lipid reserves, this value increases to ~ 0.54 mg C L -1 , daily. The health of juvenile krill in the wintertime is dependent on their ability to accumulate lipid stores in the summer and autumn and to find sufficient food during the winter. Changes in food availability to Antarctic krill throughout the year may become problematic to juvenile krill in the future. Understanding the variability in the winter energy budget of juvenile Antarctic krill will allow us to improve population models that make assumptions on seasonal growth patterns.more » « less