High motility reduces grazing mortality of planktonic bacteria

Carsten Matz, K. Jurgens

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    We tested the impact of bacterial swimming speed on the survival of planktonic bacteria in the presence of protozoan grazers. Grazing experiments with three common bacterivorous nanoflagellates revealed low clearance rates for highly motile bacteria. High-resolution video microscopy demonstrated that the number of predator-prey contacts increased with bacterial swimming speed, but ingestion rates dropped at speeds of >25 mum s(-1) as a result of handling problems with highly motile cells. Comparative studies of a moderately motile strain (45 mum s-1) further revealed changes in the bacterial swimming speed distribution due to speed-selective flagellate grazing. Better long-term survival of the highly motile strain was indicated by fourfold-higher bacterial numbers in the presence of grazing compared to the moderately motile strain. Putative constraints of maintaining high swimming speeds were tested at high growth rates and under starvation with the following results: (i) for two out of three strains increased growth rate resulted in larger and slower bacterial cells, and (ii) starved cells became smaller but maintained their swimming speeds. Combined data sets for bacterial swimming speed and cell size revealed highest grazing losses for moderately motile bacteria with a cell size between 0.2 and 0.4 mum(3). Grazing mortality was lowest for cells of >0.5 mum(3) and small, highly motile bacteria. Survival efficiencies of >95% for the ultramicrobacterial isolate CP-1 (less than or equal to0.1 mum(3), >50 mum s(-1)) illustrated the combined protective action of small cell size and high motility. Our findings suggest that motility has an important adaptive function in the survival of planktonic bacteria during protozoan grazing.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)921-929
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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