Flagellates in the marine microbial food web the ecology of a mixotrophic nanoflagellate, Ochromonas sp
Abstract: Nanoflagellates were found to be abundant in a coastal area of the northern Bothnian Sea. The maximum concentration of nanoflagellates, approximately 8000 cells ml-1, was observed in July, coinciding with a decrease in the abundance of cyanobacteria. Pigmented and non-pigmented nanoflagellates were approximately equally distributed throughout the year. Most of the identified genera are known as being phagotrophic, independent if autotrophic or not.A non-cyst-forming pigmented flagellate, Ochromonas sp., was isolated and nutritionally characterized. This chrysophycean flagellate was shown to be a mainly heterotrophic organism: Photosynthesis was too poor to support multiplication of the cells, whereas when feeding on bacteria, high growth rates were obtained. The biological function of the photosynthetic apparatus is suggested to be a survival mechanism during poor bacterial conditions.The flagellate grazed bacteria selectively, preferring cyanobacteria and large cells of heterotrophic bacteria, presumably depending on size-selective grazing. Despite higher growth rates of the bacteria in the sea during summer (July) than spring (May), heterotrophic bacteria in the sea was observed to be smaller in the summer. Nanoflagellates showed a maximum in July, and by selective grazing of large bacteria they might have caused the decrease in the average size of the bacteria and the decrease in the abundance of cyanobacteria.During the consumption of bacteria the flagellate was shown to remineralize nutrients at high rates and excrete dissolved free amino acids. Assuming the existence of a protozoan predator-prey chain of several trophic levels, it seems likely that a significant part of the nutrients fixed by primary producers is remineralized in the euphotic zone. Furthermore, data from this work indicate that flagellate activity may be a significant source of dissolved free amino acids, utilizable for the heterotrophic bacteria.
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