AME 18:235-246 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/ame018235

Predator-induced changes of bacterial size-structure and productivity studied on an experimental microbial community

Thomas Posch1,*, Karel Simek2,3, Jaroslav Vrba2, Jakob Pernthaler4, Jirri Nedoma2, Birgit Sattler1, Bettina Sonntag1, Roland Psenner1

1Institute for Zoology and Limnology, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstr. 25, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria
2Hydrobiological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences and 3Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of South Bohemia, Na sádkách 7, CZ-370 05 Ceské Budejovice, Czech Republic
4Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstrasse 1, D-28359 Bremen, Germany

ABSTRACT: The grazing impact of 3 different protozoan species on a mixed bacterial community was studied by means of a simplified and functionally reproducible experimental microbial food web in a 2-stage flow-through system. In the first stage the algae Rhodomonas sp. was grown on an inorganic medium with its accompanying bacterial community (BC) growing on algal exudates. This mixture of algae and bacteria was transferred into 4 second stage vessels: (1) a control, and 3 vessels inoculated with (2) a heterotrophic nanoflagellate, Bodo saltans, (3) a scuticociliate, Cyclidium glaucoma, and (4) a mixotrophic flagellate, Ochromonas sp. Using image analysis techniques we followed the changes in bacterial size distributions and bacterial to protozoan total biovolume ratios over an experimental period of 15 d. In addition, productivity of the grazed and ungrazed BC was measured using [3H]thymidine and [14C]leucine. As a consequence of total grazing rates and size-selective feeding we observed 3 different responses of the initially identical BC to grazing of the 3 protists. (1) Low grazing by B. saltans caused a slow decrease of bacterial cell numbers from 14 to 5.9 x 106 cells ml-1, but no significant shift of the mean cell volume (MCV, average 0.107 μm3) and bacterial production. (2) Higher grazing rates of C. glaucoma resulted in the decline of bacterial abundance to 3.3 x 106 cells ml-1 in parallel with a doubling of the MCV to 0.207 μm3 and high DNA and protein synthesis rates. Due to the ciliate's ability to graze also on small prey (<1.5 μm) an increase in MCV seemed to provide higher grazing resistance or at least decreased vulnerability. (3) Ochromonas sp. showed the highest grazing rates and reduced bacterial numbers by 20 times within 2 d. Only the smallest--obviously more grazing-protected--bacteria (<0.9 μm) survived, which increased thereafter to almost initial bacterial densities. Although the bacterial MCV dropped to 0.038 μm3, [3H]thymidine uptake rates per cell were greatly enhanced and highly variable. Our results reflect the potential of BC responses to different predation regimes and the advantages of phenotypic traits in order to coexist with various grazers. This should be seen in the context of influencing bottom-up effects and the varying potential of individual bacterial species to change morphology, growth strategies, and activity patterns.

KEY WORDS: Continuous flow systems · Grazing resistance · Bacterial growth and size-structure · Image analysis · Bodo saltans · Cyclidium glaucoma · Ochromonas sp.

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