An international team of scientists, including those from the University of Hull have discovered jellyfish are more beneficial to other marine life in providing both food and shelter than previously thought.
Jellyfish are often described as ‘arguably the most important predators in the seas’, competing with adult fish for food, or by preying on eggs and larvae.
The research, led by Queen University Belfast, which has now been published in The Royal Society, has shown that many fish species associate closely with jellyfish for both shelter and sustenance when they are young.
Dr Isabella Capellini, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology, at the University of Hull, said: “Most surprisingly we found that association with jellyfish may have pre-empted a habitat shift in some species with fish moving over evolutionary time from open water habitats to life at the seabed, or even coral reefs”.
“Given that fish and jellyfish have co-existed for a very long time, there are likely other twists in the tale yet to come, but for now the notion of millions of fish sheltering in their floating homes provides significant food for thought.”
The research also found that over two thirds of the fish species found to ‘partner up’ with jellyfish were of commercial value, and often recovering from long term-stock depletion. This has huge implications, not only for the food chain but also for the global fishing industry.
Dr Jonathan Houghton, Senior Lecturer from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Upon discovering that jellyfish are an important food sustenance as well as providing shelter, we thought it apt to compare them to ‘the gingerbread house’, depicting their dual benefit as a house you can eat.
“The significance of the associations between fish and jellyfish really cannot be underestimated. Our findings indicate that a huge range of fish rely on jellyfish to survive, whether this is to protect themselves from predators, to gain sustenance, or both.
“Our perception of jellyfish has switched hugely, thanks to recent research. It’s almost a reboot of jellyfish ecology as a central part of the ocean system. There is now a pressing need for further research to better understand the relationship and interdependencies between jellyfish and fish. That way we can see their value as well as their limitations.”