POICE examines how parasites structure food webs in the ocean’s free water masses. From studies on land, we know that parasites and disease are important in governing ecological interactions, but studies of zooplankton typically ignore this. Understanding the role of parasites as driving agents is fundamental for predicting function of coastal food webs, especially as these systems are also changing in concert with the climate. The objective of POICE is to quantify the distribution of parasites in Norwegian coastal waters and determine their structuring role for marine copepods, the most abundant animals on the planet. We will also examine how this link depends on the environment. We will also study how parasite infection alters key features of copepod physiology and behavior, and how the environment affects infection risk. With these data, we can use disease models to predict future dynamics induced by climate change. Such insights are critical for future sustainable management of the valuable coastal waters of Norway. We will combine field sampling, molecular screening, lab experiments, and modelling to get a holistic picture of the importance of the parasite-copepod coupling for coastal pelagic systems.
POICE addresses the complex and essential question of how parasites and disease structure marine pelagic food webs. In terrestrial ecosystems, parasites have long been recognised as crucial structuring components. Yet, current knowledge about how parasites affect the key players of pelagic systems, copepods, is negligible. Understanding the role of parasites as driving agents is, however, fundamental for describing and ultimately predicting the structure and function of coastal pelagic food webs, incl. in Norwegian waters.
Accumulating evidence suggests ongoing planktonic regime shifts, entailing community composition changes and decreasing copepod abundances due to global environmental change. The objective of POICE is to quantify the distribution of parasites in coastal waters and determine their structuring role for marine copepod population dynamics, and the dependency of this link on environmental factors such as temperature.
Besides parasites, copepods as all animals, are habitat for specific microbiomes. These may be pathogenic to the copepod or other constituents of its microbiome, while parts can contribute to host health and function, including its resistance to parasites. We will thus elucidate the composition, variability and function of the microbiome of marine copepods. We also quantify the role of parasites for relevant life history traits, such as swimming behavior, respiration costs, and egg production; and determine the role of environmental factors for infection risk in the ocean. With these data, we can parameterise disease models to predict future dynamics induced by climate change. These insights are critical for a future sustainable management of the valuable coastal waters of Norway.
To achieve the objectives, we will combine field sampling, molecular screening, lab experiments and modelling approaches to get a holistic picture of the distribution, types, function and importance of the parasite-copepod coupling for coastal pelagic systems