Copepods in Skeletonema-dominated food webs : Toxicity and nutritional quality as factors controlling copepod-diatom interactions

Abstract: My thesis focuses on copepod-diatom interactions, specifically on the effects of food quality and toxicity on copepod feeding, reproductive success and behavior but as a frame, also includes a quantitative evaluation of copepod carbon requirements compared to other trophic plankton groups. My aim was to evaluate the function of copepods in diatom-dominated spring blooms. I thereby used a series of mesocosm and laboratory experiments. For a realistic extrapolation of the results to natural environments I used different strains of a diatom species, Skeletonema marinoi, which is a common spring blooming species in the Baltic Sea. This species is known to produce polyunsaturated aldehydes (PUA; mainly heptadienal, octadienal and decadienal), which have previously been identified as the potential reasons for the detrimental effects of diatoms on copepod reproduction. All strains varied in size, mineral and biochemical content, and PUA production. I tested the effects on different dominant copepod species from northern temperate waters; Acartia sp. (A. clausi and A. tonsa), Calanus finmarchicus, Pseudocalanus elongatus, and Temora longicornis, as well as the dominant species in the northern Baltic Sea, Eurytemora affinis. The specific contributions of respiratory carbon requiment of mesozooplankton and lower size fractions to carbon cycling during PUA-producing diatom blooms are poorly documented. My results show that nanoplankton and microzooplankton dominated the carbon cycling (> 50% of primary production) whereas the contribution of bacterioplankton varied. Mesozooplankton was always of minor importance with contribution of <6% of primary production.  This illustrates the importance of lower size fractions during a phytoplankton spring bloom. Irrespective of their small contribution to the total community carbon cycling, copepods displayed non-selective and typically high feeding rate on different PUA-producing S. marinoi strains, indicating that there was no feeding deterrence. The effect of feeding on copepod reproductive success, however, varied between different strains, and depending on copepod species. In experiments with monospecific diatom diets reduced egg production rate and hatching success were mainly related to food quality measured as fatty acids and sterols, or algae growth rate, low assimilation efficiency or PUA production / ingestion. On the other hand, copepod reproduction and population development in the diverse diet, including a high concentration of S. marinoi and PUA (both particulate and dissolved), increased with increasing food concentration and was unaffected by the presence of toxic diatoms. I conclude that although a negative correlation between different reproductive variables and PUA production / ingestion may sometimes be observed in laboratory incubations, this is highly dependent on the strain / species used, and the effect of the algal strain can be stronger than the effect of the e.g., growth-stage dependent PUA production. Although copepod grazing might not be very important during a diatom spring bloom, even a highly PUA-producing S. marinoi can be considered an appropriate food source for copepods when occurring among the natural food assemblage, inducing a high reproductive output.