Marine Biology

, Volume 143, Issue 6, pp 1161–1174 | Cite as

Geographic variation and behavioral evolution in marine plankton: the case of Mastigias (Scyphozoa, Rhizostomeae)

  • Michael N DawsonEmail author
  • William M. Hamner
Research Article


Although complex behavior in marine zooplankton has been considered strong evidence of adaptation, ethological studies of marine zooplankton generally have not employed either the comparative approach or evolutionary perspective necessary to distinguish adaptation from any alternative. Consequently, the potential for intra-specific variation in the behavior of marine zooplankton has received insufficient attention and conclusions of adaptation remain poorly substantiated. Intra-specific comparison of patterns of migration and behavior for seven populations of golden jellyfish, Mastigias (Scyphozoa: Rhizostomeae), inhabiting isolated marine lakes and semi-enclosed lagoon coves in Palau document population specific differences in patterns of horizontal migration, vertical migration, pulse rate, swimming speed, and turning behavior. Evidence was found for symplesiomorphic behaviors, canalization, exaptation, adaptation, and probably once-deleterious traits. Behavioral evolution likely proceeded via, at least, relaxation of selection, trade-offs with morphology, and natural selection effected by predation. Behavioral patterns also may change with ontogeny. Geographic variation in the behavior of marine plankton therefore can be substantial and patterns of evolution complex. Behavioral evolution can rapidly generate coastal biodiversity. Thus, geographic variation in marine plankton is of potential interest to ethologists, evolutionary biologists, biogeographers, and conservation biologists.


Pulse Rate Swimming Speed Vertical Migration Horizontal Distribution Swimming Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The national Division of Marine Resources and Koror State Government kindly granted research permits for this work, which was in accordance with current laws, in Palau. W. Maech and L. E. Martin provided invaluable field-assistance and discussion. We are also grateful to S. Foster for taking the time to read and suggest ways to improve the manuscript. The study was funded by grants from the American Museum of Natural History (Lerner-Gray Award), British Schools and Universities Foundation, International Women's Fishing Association, and by the Academic Senate, Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origins of Life, Graduate Division, and Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution, at the University of California, Los Angeles. Work at the Coral Reef Research Foundation was enabled by Grant no. DBI-9714179 from the National Science Foundation. A Vice-Chancellor's Post-doctoral Fellowship to MND from the University of New South Wales supported the completion of the project.

Supplementary material

SD1 Statistical data describing horizontal distributions and instantaneous swimming directions of Mastigias medusae to accompany Figure 2

SD1.pdf (31 kb)
(PDF 32 KB)

SD2 Statistical data describing vertical distributions of Mastigias medusae to accompany Figures 4 and 5

SD2.pdf (30 kb)
(PDF 30 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Coral Reef Research FoundationKororPalau
  3. 3.Centre for Marine and Coastal StudiesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Centre for Marine and Coastal StudiesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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