Article Spotlight: Using bioluminescence as a tool for studying diversity in marine zooplankton and dinoflagellates

by | Jun 20, 2024 | Article Spotlight, Hubs

Bioluminescence: The Flashy Secrets of the Sea

This article compares first flash kinetic parameters such as flash duration, peak intensity, rise time, decay time, first-flash mechanically stimulated light and e-folding time obtained with the commercially available Underwater Bioluminescence Assessment Tool (UBAT). 

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“We use the bioluminescence produced by zooplankton as a proxy for identifying what species is present in the water column simply by looking at what kind of light is emitted, instead of using traditional sampling methods like nets or cans & bottles. It’s a really different approach and it’s yielded promising results.
Francis Letendre

Author, Florida Atlantic University

For All Readers - AI Explainer

What is bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is the light produced by living organisms through chemical reactions. It’s commonly found in many marine creatures like certain types of plankton, jellyfish, and fish.

Why is bioluminescence important in marine biology?

Bioluminescence can be used to study marine ecosystems. By measuring the light produced by different species, scientists can estimate the number of organisms (biomass), identify species, and understand the biodiversity in the ocean.

How is bioluminescence used to measure planktonic biomass?

The light produced by bioluminescent organisms is often linked to the amount of plankton present. By measuring the intensity and other properties of the light, scientists can estimate the biomass of plankton in a given area.

What is a “first flash kinetic parameter” (FFKP)?

FFKPs are specific characteristics of the light produced by bioluminescent organisms, such as how long the light lasts, how bright it gets, and how quickly it rises and fades. These parameters help identify different species.

How do scientists measure bioluminescence in marine organisms?

Scientists use tools like the Underwater Bioluminescence Assessment Tool (UBAT) to measure the light produced by marine organisms. They look at various parameters like flash duration, peak intensity, and decay time.

What organisms were studied for their bioluminescence in this research?

The study examined several types of dinoflagellates (a kind of plankton) like Pyrocystis fusiformis and Pyrodinium bahamense, as well as zooplankton like the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi and the larvacean Oikopleura sp.

Why is bioluminescence thought to have evolved in marine organisms?

Bioluminescence likely evolved for various reasons, such as defense against predators, attracting mates, or hunting prey. For example, some organisms use light to camouflage themselves or to signal warnings to others of the same species.

What is the “burglar alarm hypothesis”?

This hypothesis suggests that when small bioluminescent organisms like dinoflagellates are attacked by predators, they produce light to attract even larger predators. This distracts or deters the initial predator, increasing the small organism’s chances of survival.

Can bioluminescence indicate the health of marine ecosystems?

Yes, measuring bioluminescence can provide insights into the health of marine ecosystems. For instance, high bioluminescence might indicate the presence of harmful algal blooms, while changes in bioluminescence patterns can signal shifts in population dynamics or productivity.



Using bioluminescence as a tool for studying diversity in marine zooplankton and dinoflagellates: an initial assessment

Bioluminescence is light chemically produced by an organism. It is widespread across all major marine phyla and has evolved multiple times, resulting in a high diversity of spectral properties and first flash kinetic parameters (FFKP). The bioluminescence of a system is often a good proxy for planktonic biomass. The species-specific parameters of bioluminescent displays can be measured to identify species in situ and describe planktonic biodiversity.

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