Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Featured Research

Student Researcher Julian Kimura Shines a Light on Copepods

Copepods are super small crustaceans that play a big role in the ocean's food web, helping to sustain much larger animals, everything from lobsters to different types of fish to baleen whales. In fact, some ocean animals are such picky eaters that they only eat copepods. These choice eating habits become a problem for aquariums because the only way to keep such fussy dieters happy and healthy is by having easy access to copepods. That's where CMA student researcher Julian Kimura comes in.

"There's a lot of endangered species and threatened animals that research institutions are trying to keep and many of these animals only eat copepods," explained Kimura. "When kept in captivity, the animals end up starving to death because the copepods don't reproduce fast enough to the meet the demand for food. My project is basically trying to increase the amount of copepods produced per generation so that animals that can't currently be kept in captivity can be kept in captivity in the future."

Last year, Kimura researched the copepod species Tigriopus californicus, a type of benthic (bottom dwelling) copepod, which prefers hanging out in tidepool areas along California's coast. "I tested the variables of food, temperature and light inside of a laboratory culture and found that Isochrysis galbana yielded about four times the amount from the control," said Kimura.

It turns out that the magic ingredient increasing copepod reproduction each generation, Isochrysis galbana, is a type of brown algae. Higher light intensity also yielded a positive correlation. This research project and findings led to Kimura placing 1st at the Palos Verdes Science Fair, 2nd at the Los Angeles County Science Fair, 3rd in his category at the California State Science Fair and 4th at the Intel International Science Fair in spring of 2011.

This fall, Kimura will be launching new research on copepods on a pelagic species called Acartia tonsa. Pelagic is a term referring to the open ocean versus the benthic species he researched last year.

Raising a pelagic copepod species in captivity means a new set of challenges. "The problem with Acartia tonsa is that they are generally a pain to culture because if the water isn't agitated enough they get stuck on the surface tension and die; and if there's too much agitation then the water will break off the antennas and prevent them from eating" explain Kimura. "They also need a constant temperature otherwise they die, and they can't be exposed to gravity because their bodies weren't designed to withstand it."

To tackle this new challenge, Kimura is in the process of designing a new tank for this species of pelagic copepod to help keep it alive in captivity. He hopes to increase the yield in the same way he did last year for the benthic species.


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