Caron David A.

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The role of heterotrophic microflagellates in plankton communities

1984-06 , Caron, David A.

The distribution and feeding behavior of bacterivorous micro flagellates (2-20 μm protozoa) and their ingestion by copepods were examined in an attempt to assess the importance of these protozoa as a trophic link between planktonic bacteria and zooplankton. The abundance of microflagellates relative to other picoplankton (0.2-2.0 μm) and nanoplankton (2-20 μm) populations in water samples in the North Atlantic and in Lake Ontario and on macroaggregates in the North Atlantic was determined using direct microscopical and culture estimation techniques. Seasonal, vertical and geographical changes in the density of microflagellates were generally not greater than one order of magnitude. Microscopical counts of heterotrophic nanoplankton (presumably microflagellates) typically ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand m1-1 for a variety of planktonic environments. They constituted approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of the nanoplankton in the euphotic zone and dominated the nanoplankton in the aphotic zone. Most Probable Number (MPN) estimation of the density of bacterivorous protozoa indicated that microflagellates were, on average, an order of magnitude more abundant than bacterivorous ciliates and amoebae. MPN and direct microscopical counts of microflagellates differed by as much as 104. This discrepancy was smaller in eutrophic environments (e.g. Continental Shelf and Lake Ontario) and on macroscopic detrital aggregates. All microbial populations enumerated were highly concentrated on macroscopic detrital aggregates relative to their abundance in the water surrounding the aggregates. Enrichment factors (the ratio of abundance of a population on a macroaggregate to its abundance in the surrounding water) increased along a eutrophic-to-oligotrophic gradient because of the combined effects of an increased abundance of microorganisms on macroaggregates in oligotrophic environments and a decreased abundance in the surrounding water in these same environments. Average enrichment factors for direct microscopical counts of heterotrophic nanoplankton (range = 17-114) were not as large as enrichment factors observed for MPN estimates of the number of bacterivorous microflagellates (range = 273-18400). Microflagellates numerically dominated the bacterivorous protozoa cultured from macroaggregates by one to two orders of magnitude, but ciliates and amoebae were also highly enriched on macroaggregates. Microenvironments are therefore a potentially important aspect for the ecology of planktonic microorganisms. Observations on the microbial colonization of mucus sloughed by ctenophores and discarded appendicularian houses suggest that these materials may be important sources of macroaggregates. Batch and continuous culture experiments were conducted with clonal cultures of microflagellates to test their ability to grow on various types and densities of bacteria. The doubling time of Monas sp. 1 ranged from 43 hr (when fed the cyanobacterium Synechococcus Strain WH 8101) to 6.9 hr (when fed the heterotrophic bacterium Serratia marinorubra). Cell yields (i.e. the conversion of bacterial biomass into protozoan biomass) of Monas sp. 1 fed two species of heterotrophic bacteria were greater than yields for the microflagellate fed two species chroococcoid cyanobacteria (range = 7-68%). Cell yields of two other species of microflagellates (Monas sp. 2 and Cryptobia maris) were 48% and 61%, respectively, on the bacterium Pseudomonas halodurans. Microflagellates grew in continuous culture at concentrations of bacteria which were lower than bacterial densities required for the growth of ciliates as shown by other investigations. Therefore, microflagellates appear to be well-adapted for grazing bacterioplankton. Microflagellates were also investigated for their ability to graze bacteria attached to particles. Bodo nanorensis and Rhynchomonas nasuta both showed a marked ability to graze attached bacteria and a limited ability to graze unattached cells. These results suggest that microflagellates may also be important consumers of bacteria attached to particles in the plankton and may explain the highly elevated densities of microflagellates on macroaggregates. Grazing experiments performed with the copepod Acartia tonsa indicated that heterotrophic microflagellates were ingested by the copepods at rates comparable to the ingestion of phytoplankton of similar size. The presence of heterotrophic microflagellates did not depress filtration rates of the copepods, and one species (Cryptobia maris) appeared to be selectively grazed. Survival of A. tonsa on a diet of heterotrophic microflagellates was similar to survival on a diet of phytoplankton and was significantly longer than survival of starved Controls or copepods fed only bacteria. Due to their ability to grow at in-situ densities of planktonic bacteria, their relatively high cell yields, and their acceptability as food for zooplankton, it is concluded that bacterivorous microflagellates may constitute an important trophic link between bacteria and zooplankton. This link may provide a mechanism whereby organic material and energy from the detrital food chain can be returned to the classical phytoplankton-copepod-fish food chain.