Feeding on copepod fecal pellets: a new trophic role of dinoflagellates as detritivores

Louise K. Poulsen, M. Moldrup, T. Berge, P.J. Hansen

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Recent field studies indicate that dinoflagellates are key degraders of copepod fecal pellets. This study is the first to publish direct evidence of pellet grazing by dinoflagellates. Feeding and growth on copepod fecal pellets were studied for both heterotrophic (4 species) and mixotrophic dinoflagellates (3 species) using a combination of classic incubation experiments and video recordings of feeding behavior. Fecal pellets were produced by adult Acartia tonsa feeding on Rhodomonas salina. Two mixotrophic species (Karlodinium armiger, a gymnodinoid dinoflagellate, Gy1) and all heterotrophic dinoflagellates (Gyrodinium dominans, Gyrodinium spirale, Diplopsalis lenticula, Protoperidinium depressum) studied fed on fecal pellets. Using natural concentrations of dinoflagellates and copepod fecal pellets, average ingestion rates of 0.2 and 0.1 pellets cell−1 d−1 and clearance rates of between 0.2 and 0.3 ml cell−1 d−1 were obtained for G. spirale and P. depressum, respectively. Pellet feeding resulted in average growth rates of 0.69 and 0.08 d−1 with growth yields of 0.58 and 0.50 for G. spirale and P. depressum. Important factors for the grazing impact of the dinoflagellates on fecal pellets in this study were: dinoflagellate concentration, the dinoflagellate-to-pellet size ratio, the feeding mechanism, pellet food source, and pellet age. This study reveals a new trophic role for dinoflagellates as detritivores, and shows that large (>20 µm) heterotrophic dinoflagellates alone can account for reported pellet degradation rates in field studies. Thus, dinoflagellates can function as an effective ‘protozoan filter’ for fecal pellets in the water column
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology - Progress Series
Pages (from-to)65-78
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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