Patterns of zooplankton vertical movement are often difficult to interpret because of multiple, complex and confounding environmental factors. Behavioural adaptations to these environmental variables are compared within and between the holo- and meroplankton constituents of a community. We used a nested design to analyse patterns at several scales in time; (semi-diel, diel, spring-neap tidal cycle and season) and two in space; (depth and site). To reduce complexity and aid interpretation we studied a semi-isolated community in a semi-enclosed, seasonally stratified sea lough (Lough Hyne Marine Nature Reserve, Ireland). In this, the main environmental gradient was water flow rate (or water residence time) caused by tidal currents. Vertical profiles of abundance showed that populations of the most abundant species of holo- and meroplankton in the lough have considerable behavioural plasticity, enabling them to switch between sedentary and migratory behaviour and patterns of migration. Some species migrate vertically in synchrony with diel cycles and others in response to semi-diel tidal currents; a few do both, but the majority did neither. It is suggested that water column structure and hydrographic discontinuities caused by flow rate and pycnocline dynamics are responsible for the variable patterns of vertical migration and distribution
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