Pelagic microorganisms in the northern Baltic Sea : Ecology, diversity and food web dynamics

Abstract: Heterotrophic microorganisms are important for the flow of carbon and nutrients in the sea. Bacteria, nanoflagellates and ciliates are relevant components of the pelagic food web. In order to be able to predict the outcome of e.g. eutrophication or climate change we need to know how the different components of the pelagic food web are regulated. With the focus on the northern Baltic Sea food web, this thesis deals with limitation and control of heterotrophic protists, the effect of resource heterogeneity on food web efficiency and diversity of nanoflagellates. In-situ microcosm experiments showed that the net growth of heterotrophic flagellates were resource limited throughout the year. Field data confirmed that the abundance of flagellates was bottom-up controlled. Furthermore, field data also showed that the annual average biomass of protists, flagellates and ciliates increased with primary productivity. On a smaller seasonal scale temperature and bacterial biomass were able to explain most of the variation in flagellate biovolume. The temporal variation in ciliate biovolume could not be explained by any bottom-up factors like bacterial biomass, flagellate biomass or chlorophyll a. This and an in-situ microcosm experiment implied that the seasonal dynamics of ciliates were more regulated by predators like mesozooplankton. The food web efficiency i.e. how much of production at the resource level is converted to production at the top trophic level, may be affected by specific size or type of resource. Indoor mesocosms revealed that the food web efficiency was 11 times lower when heterotrophic bacteria dominated basal production instead of nano- and micro-sized phytoplankton. This was due to a lengthening of the food web when pico-sized bacteria constituted the main resource. The PCR-DGGE molecular biological method was used to study the diversity of heterotrophic or mixotrophic chrysomonads. The focus was set on chrysomonads due to their relatively large contribution to the nanoflagellate community. Group-specific PCR primers were optimized for the target group. A field survey in the northern Baltic Sea showed that a handful of chrysomonad sequences were present throughout the year. Significantly more chrysomonads were recorded in the basin with higher primary productive and salinity. In total 15-16 different chrysomonad sequences were recorded. Most of them matched uncultured chrysomonad clones.