The copepod Calanus finmarchicus plays a crucial role in the north Atlantic food web. Its seasonal life cycle involves reproduction and development in surface waters before overwintering in diapause at depth. Although diapause has been studied for more than a century, the factors responsible for the initiation and termination of it are still unclear. Endogenous clocks have been identified as potent tools for photoperiod measurement and seasonal rhythmicity in many terrestrial species, but knowledge of these remains scarce in the marine realm.
Focusing on the dominant CV copepodid stage, we sampled a population of C. finmarchicus from a Scottish sea loch to characterize population dynamics, several physiological parameters, and diel and seasonal expression rhythms of 35 genes representing different metabolic pathways, including the circadian clock machinery. This generated a detailed overview of the seasonal cycle of C. finmarchicusincluding the most extensive field dataset on circadian clock gene expression in a marine species to date. Gene expression patterns revealed distinct gene clusters upregulated at different phases of the copepod's seasonal cycle. While diel clock cycling was restricted to the active spring/summer phase, many clock genes exhibited the highest expression during diapause.
Our results provide new insights into diapause on physiological and genetic levels. We suggest that photoperiod, in interaction with internal and external factors (lipid content, temperature, food availability) and the endogenous clock mechanism, plays an important role in the timing of diapause in C. finmarchicus.