Most freshwater zooplankton species produce dormant eggs or other long-lived resistant life stages to bridge periods that are unsuitable for growth and reproduction. One of the principal cues that determine activation of these dormant stages is light exposure. Contrary to the analogous process of seed germination in plants, relatively little is known about the mechanism of light activation and its potential adaptive value in freshwater zooplankton. We made use of a temporary pool model to investigate the hatching response of resting eggs of the fairy shrimp Branchipodopsis wolfi to a specific set of selected light regimes and to evaluate the importance of egg pigmentation for mediating susceptibility to light cues. Our results suggest the presence of a critical light threshold for activation leading to maximal hatching. Moreover, the process of light activation does not appear to be purely cumulative because light administered in a single continuous pulse resulted in much higher hatching than the same amount of light administered in several 2-h pulses. Last, darkly pigmented eggs were less sensitive than lightly pigmented eggs to light exposure, resulting in delayed hatching of darker eggs during an experimental inundation. This result indicates that natural variation in egg pigmentation could be a risk-spreading mechanism that trades off the risks of mortality caused by kin competition during the nutrient-limited conditions that typically prevail early during inundations on one hand and the risk of mortality from premature pond drying on the other hand. Overall, our results indicate that light-energy activation thresholds and variation in pigmentation of the eggshell can be important traits that may contribute to variation in hatching phenology among zooplankton lineages.
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