Ecological drivers of jellyfish blooms – The complex life history of a ‘well-known’ medusa (Aurelia aurita)


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Abstract

Jellyfish blooms are conspicuous demographic events with significant ecological and socio-economic impact. Despite worldwide concern about an increased frequency and intensity of such mass occurrences, predicting their booms and busts remains challenging.Forecasting how jellyfish populations may respond to environmental change requires considering their complex life histories. Metagenic life cycles, which include a benthic polyp stage, can boost jellyfish mass occurrences via asexual recruitment of pelagic medusae.Here we present stage-structured matrix population models with monthly, individual-based demographic rates of all life stages of the moon jellyfish Aurelia aurita L. (sensu stricto). We investigate the life-stage dynamics of these complex populations under low and high food conditions to illustrate how changes in medusa density depend on non-medusa stage dynamics.We show that increased food availability can be an important ecological driver of jellyfish mass occurrences, as it can temporarily shift the population structure from polyp- to medusa-dominated. Projecting populations for a winter warming scenario additionally enhanced the booms and busts of jellyfish blooms.We identify demographic key variables that control the intensity and frequency of jellyfish blooms in response to environmental drivers such as habitat eutrophication and climate change. By contributing to an improved understanding of mass occurrence phenomena, our findings provide perspective for future management of ecosystem health.Despite worldwide concern about an increased frequency and intensity of jellyfish mass occurrences, predictions remain challenging due to complex life histories. In this study, the authors present stage-structured matrix population models with monthly, individual-based demographic rates of all life stages of the moon jellyfish Aurelia aurita and unravel key mechanisms that can promote jellyfish blooms in response to environmental change.

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