Quantification of bioluminescence from the surface to the deep sea demonstrates its predominance as an ecological trait
The capability of animals to emit light, called bioluminescence, is considered to be a major factor in ecological interactions. Because it occurs across diverse taxa, measurements of bioluminescence can be powerful to detect and quantify organisms in the ocean. In this study, 17 years of video observations were recorded by remotely operated vehicles during surveys off the California Coast, from the surface down to 3,900 m depth. More than 350,000 observations are classified for their bioluminescence capability based on literature descriptions. The organisms represented 553 phylogenetic concepts (species, genera or families, at the most precise taxonomic level defined from the images), distributed within 13 broader taxonomic categories. The importance of bioluminescent marine taxa is highlighted in the water column, as we showed that 76% of the observed individuals have bioluminescence capability. More than 97% of Cnidarians were bioluminescent, and 9 of the 13 taxonomic categories were found to be bioluminescent dominant. The percentage of bioluminescent animals is remarkably uniform over depth. Moreover, the proportion of bioluminescent and non-bioluminescent animals within taxonomic groups changes with depth for Ctenophora, Scyphozoa, Chaetognatha, and Crustacea. Given these results, bioluminescence has to be considered an important ecological trait from the surface to the deep-sea.
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