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On the timing of moulting processes in reproductively active Northern krill Meganyctiphanes norvegica
The interactions between moult phasing, growth and environmental cues in Northern krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica) were examined through analysing populations at seasonal, weekly, and daily timescales. The analyses were carried out on resident populations of krill found in three different neritic locations that experience similar environmental signals (the Clyde Sea, Scotland; the Kattegat, Denmark; Gullmarsfjord, Sweden). Seasonal analyses were carried out on the Clyde Sea population and showed that moulting frequency increased significantly moving from winter to summer. The proportion of moulting females in summer samples was often more than double the proportion of moulting males, suggesting that females had a comparatively shorter intermoult period (IMP). Weekly samples taken from the Kattegat showed a similar pattern. However, although the difference between the proportion of female and male moulters was significant in one week, it was not another, mainly because of the variability in the proportion of female moulters. Such variability in females was equally evident in the daily samples taken at Gullmarsfjord. It suggests that females have a shorter IMP (12.5 days) than males (18.4 days) and are more likely to moult in synchrony. Nevertheless, the daily samples revealed that males are also capable of moult synchronisation, although less frequently than females. Shortened IMPs in females were not a result of the abbreviation of specific moult stages. Accordingly, reproductive activity did not alter the course of the normal moult cycle. There was no significant difference between the total body lengths of males and females indicating that females achieve the same levels of growth despite moulting more frequently and having to provision the energy-rich ovaries. This is in contrast to most other crustaceans where the energy costs of reproduction reduce female growth. The fact that females were less abundant than males, probably by suffering a greater level of mortality, suggests that different behavioural strategies, particularly vertical migration regimes, were adopted by each sex to maximise growth and reproduction.