The pelagic tunicate, Oikopleura dioica, feeds by non-selectively filtering particles in the size range of 0.2-20 μm. In the northern Gulf of Mexico, particulate matter in this size range contains large amounts of fine-grained lithogenic material because of the influence of the Mississippi River. During May 1992, O. dioica populations filtered between 2 and 44% (mean = 20%) of the upper 5 m each day. The filtered lithogenic particles either remain in the oikopleurid house or are defecated in fecal pellets which have high sinking velocities. Either way, the larvacean populations significantly alter the fates of fine-grained lithogenic particles in these waters and thereby enhance light penetration. The widespread occurrence of oikopleurids in coastal regions of temperate and subtropical oceans suggests they could have a significant influence on the fates of fine-grained lithogenic particles in discharge plumes of many of the world's large, sediment-laden rivers.
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