Free Content Coastal Bioluminescence: Patterns and Functions

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Abstract:

Individual bioluminescent organisms in coastal waters often occur in high densities, but the number of luminescent species is relatively low, about 1 to 2%. Simple emitting systems, involving either photocytes or photosecretion, tend to be the dominant luminescent types in coastal organisms, However, complex light organs, as either glandular light organs or photophores, occur among some of the fishes. This situation contrasts with oceanic regions where organisms with photophores tend to dominate.

Most of the luminescent signals in coastal waters occur in response to contact stimulation as simple conspicuous fast flashes (<2 sec) or slow glows (>5 sec). I suggest that most coastal luminescence functions to deter potential predation primarily by fast flashes, which repel a predator, or by slow glows, which attract a predator toward the decoy light and away from the prey. As a third antipredatory strategy, some fishes with glandular light organs produce a concealing luminescence so that their predators fail to detect them as prey. As a second major function, particularly among coastal fishes with glandular light organs, luminescence is used to obtain prey through attraction and/or detection. Thirdly, light may also be used for communication between conspecifics, particularly for mating, aggregating and territorial purposes. Finally, luminescence might serve mutualistic (advertising) purposes as, for example, between luminous bacteria and visual consumers.

The preponderance of simple luminescent systems present in comparatively few species in the photically complex and heterogeneous environments of coastal waters contrasts sharply with the majority of species in the more homogeneous photic environment of the midwaters of the open sea where photophores and complicated luminescent patterns dominate. Conversely, the complex photic regimen of the shallow oceans and terrestrial environments suggests distinct parallels might exist between communications using luminescence and those using ambient reflected light, which is characteristic of all other visual communication.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 1983

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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