MEPS - Vol. 367 - Feature article

Protozooplankton organisms (dinoflagellates and -ciliates) are key degraders of copepod fecal pellets: Gyrodinium dominans draws pellet material into a food vacuole through the open transversal groove. Photo: L. K. Poulsen

Poulsen LK, Iversen MH

 

Degradation of copepod fecal pellets: key role of protozooplankton

 

Copepod fecal pellets constitute a large carbon pool in the sea, due to the ubiquitous distribution of copepods and their importance as grazers of phytoplankton. Copepod fecal pellets have high sinking rates, but are most often recycled within the upper layer of the ocean. The identity of the degraders, however, remained unresolved until now. Poulsen & Iversen added fecal pellets to different fractions of the natural plankton community of Øresund (Denmark) to screen for pellet degraders. This approach reveals that protozooplankton (dinoflagellates and ciliates) are key degraders of copepod fecal pellets; they provide a more efficient pathway for transferring pellet material to higher trophic levels than recycling through the microbial loop.

 

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