Microzooplankton community structure investigated with imaging flow cytometry and automated live-cell staining
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Protozoa play important roles in grazing and nutrient recycling, but quantifying these roles has been hindered by difficulties in collecting, culturing, and observing these often-delicate cells. During long-term deployments at the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (Massachusetts, USA), Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) has been shown to be useful for studying live cells in situ without the need to culture or preserve. IFCB records images of cells with chlorophyll fluorescence above a trigger threshold, so to date taxonomically resolved analysis of protozoa has presumably been limited to mixotrophs and herbivores which have eaten recently. To overcome this limitation, we have coupled a broad-application ‘live cell’ fluorescent stain with a modified IFCB so that protozoa which do not contain chlorophyll (such as consumers of unpigmented bacteria and other heterotrophs) can also be recorded. Staining IFCB (IFCB-S) revealed higher abundances of grazers than the original IFCB, as well as some cell types not previously detected. Feeding habits of certain morphotypes could be inferred from their fluorescence properties: grazers with stain fluorescence but without chlorophyll cannot be mixotrophs, but could be either starving or feeding on heterotrophs. Comparisons between cell counts for IFCB-S and manual light microscopy of Lugol’s stained samples showed consistently similar or higher counts from IFCB-S. We show how automated classification through the extraction of image features and application of a machine-learning algorithm can be used to evaluate the large high-resolution data sets collected by IFCBs; the results reveal varying seasonal patterns in abundance among groups of protists.
© The Author(s), 2016. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Marine Ecology Progress Series 550 (2016): 65-81, doi:10.3354/meps11687.
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