Feeding currents facilitate a mixotrophic way of life

Lasse Tor Nielsen, Thomas Kiørboe

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Mixotrophy is common, if not dominant, among eukaryotic flagellates, and these organisms have to both acquire inorganic nutrients and capture particulate food. Diffusion limitation favors small cell size for nutrient acquisition, whereas large cell size facilitates prey interception because of viscosity, and hence intermediately sized mixotrophic dinoflagellates are simultaneously constrained by diffusion and viscosity. Advection may help relax both constraints. We use high-speed video microscopy to describe prey interception and capture, and micro particle image velocimetry (micro-PIV) to quantify the flow fields produced by free-swimming dinoflagellates. We provide the first complete flow fields of free-swimming interception feeders, and demonstrate the use of feeding currents. These are directed toward the prey capture area, the position varying between the seven dinoflagellate species studied, and we argue that this efficiently allows the grazer to approach small-sized prey despite viscosity. Measured flow fields predict the magnitude of observed clearance rates. The fluid deformation created by swimming dinoflagellates may be detected by evasive prey, but the magnitude of flow deformation in the feeding current varies widely between species and depends on the position of the transverse flagellum. We also use the near-cell flow fields to calculate nutrient transport to swimming cells and find that feeding currents may enhance nutrient uptake by ≈75% compared with that by diffusion alone. We argue that all phagotrophic microorganisms must have developed adaptations to counter viscosity in order to allow prey interception, and conclude that the flow fields created by the beating flagella in dinoflagellates are key to the success of these mixotrophic organisms
Original languageEnglish
JournalISME Journal
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)2117-2127
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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