Massive salp swarm tilts ocean's chemical balance


  • Colin Schultz


A surge of nutrients to the warm waters off the southeastern coast of Australia during the highly productive austral spring can spark an explosion in the phytoplankton population. Where phytoplankton bloom, so do the predators that feed on them. Some, like the globally prevalent salp Thalia democratica, excel at capitalizing on the transient nature of phytoplankton blooms. Salps are tiny gelatinous creatures that feed on plankton and other microorganisms by straining them from the ocean water with a fine mesh sieve. A rarity among multicellular animals, salps retain the ability to reproduce by asexual budding, with one salp spawning a clone of itself. This budding, combined with sexual reproduction, enables salp populations to grow by up to 250% per day.