AME 54:255-267 (2009)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ame01271

Effects of microzooplankton growth and trophic interactions on herbivory in coastal and offshore environments

Matthew R. First1,4,*, Harlan L. Miller III1, Peter J. Lavrentyev2, James L. Pinckney3, Adrian B. Burd1

1Department of Marine Sciences, The University of Georgia, Marine Science Building, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA
2Department of Biology, The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio 44325, USA
3Marine Science Program and Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208, USA
4Present address: Department of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

ABSTRACT: We performed serial dilution experiments to estimate rates of gross phytoplankton growth (μ) and grazing mortality (m) in both eutrophic (Corpus Christi Bay, Texas, USA) and oligotrophic (offshore Gulf of Mexico) waters. Two parallel experiments were performed in both environments, with seawater pre-screened through 153 or 25 µm mesh to observe the responses of microzooplankton (MZP) to dilution treatments. MZP biomass changed over the duration of the experimental incubations; in several treatments, MZP net growth rates were >1 d–1. Patterns of growth varied between dilutions and initial screening size. In the eutrophic system, the ratio of phytoplankton grazing mortality rate to gross phytoplankton growth rate (m/μ) was 1.10 ± 0.54 (mean ± SD) versus 0.41 ± 0.65 when screened through 153 and 25 µm mesh, respectively. This difference was attributed to cascading trophic interactions among MZP size groups leading to suppression of the primary herbivores in the 25 µm fraction and, in turn, a lower value of m. A food web model consisting of multiple trophic levels was constructed to examine the role of MZP growth and trophic interactions on measurements of μ and m. The model, using 3 interacting groups of MZP, was able to reproduce experimental results. Model simulations demonstrated that MZP growth during incubation leads to an overestimation of m. Non-linearity in the phytoplankton growth response curves was due to MZP growth and trophic interactions in these model simulations, as variable feeding responses were not incorporated into the models. Trophic interactions among MZP can provide context to measurements of μ and m and insight into microbial food web efficiency.


KEY WORDS: Serial dilution experiments · Microbial food web · Microplankton · Food web model · Ciliates · Dinoflagellates · Trophic cascades · Zooplankton


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Cite this article as: First MR, Miller III HL, Lavrentyev PJ, Pinckney JL, Burd AB (2009) Effects of microzooplankton growth and trophic interactions on herbivory in coastal and offshore environments. Aquat Microb Ecol 54:255-267. https://doi.org/10.3354/ame01271

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