Flexible behaviour in a mesopelagic fish (Maurolicus muelleri)
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Variability of mesopelagic scattering layers is often attributed to environmental conditions or multi-species layer composition. Yet, little is known about variation in behaviour among the individuals forming scattering layers. Based on a 10 months high-resolution dataset from stationary echosounders in a Norwegian fjord, we here assess short-term and long-term behaviour of a single mesopelagic fish species, the pearlside Maurolicus muelleri. The daytime vertical extension of the monospecific pearlside scattering layers spanned four orders of magnitude ambient light in the autumn and winter and less than one order of magnitude in summer. While the main layers tracked relatively stable light levels over daytime, some individuals actively crossed light gradients of up to 1.5 orders of magnitude. This included individuals that moved between scattering layers, and apparently bold individuals that made regular upward excursions beyond the main population distribution. During the daytime, M. muelleri mitigated the risk of predation by forming tight groups in the upper scattering layer and, at light levels >10−6 µmol m−2 s−1, by instantly diving into deeper waters upon encounters with predators. Our observations suggest that individual, and probably state-dependent, decisions may extend the pearlsides’ vertical distribution, with implications for predator–prey interactions.