Statistical Mechanics of Zooplankton

Statistical mechanics provides the link between microscopic properties of many-particle systems and macroscopic properties such as pressure and temperature. Observations of similar “microscopic” quantities exist for the motion of zooplankton, as well as many species of other social animals. Herein, we propose to take average squared velocities as the definition of the “ecological temperature” of a population under different conditions on nutrients, light, oxygen and others. We test the usefulness of this definition on observations of the crustacean zooplankton Daphnia pulicaria. In one set of experiments, D. pulicaria is infested with the pathogen Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera. We find that infested D. pulicaria under light exposure have a significantly greater ecological temperature, which puts them at a greater risk of detection by visual predators. In a second set of experiments, we observe D. pulicaria in cold and warm water, and in darkness and under light exposure. Overall, our ecological temperature is a good discriminator of the crustacean’s swimming behavior.