Predation in a Microbial World: Mechanisms and Trade-Offs of Flagellate Foraging

Thomas Kiørboe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Heterotrophic nanoflagellates are the main consumers of bacteria and picophytoplankton in the ocean and thus play a key role in ocean biogeochemistry. They are found in all major branches of the eukaryotic tree of life but are united by all being equipped with one or a few flagella that they use to generate a feeding current. These microbial predators are faced with the challenges that viscosity at this small scale impedes predator-prey contact and that their foraging activity disturbs the ambient water and thus attracts their own flow-sensing predators. Here, I describe some of the diverse adaptations of the flagellum to produce sufficient force to overcome viscosity and of the flagellar arrangement to minimize fluid disturbances, and thus of the various solutions to optimize the foraging-predation risk trade-off. I demonstrate how insights into this trade-off can be used to develop robust trait-based models of microbial food webs. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Marine Science, Volume 16 is January 2024. Please see for revised estimates.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Phagotrophic flagellates
  • Foraging
  • Fluid dynamics
  • Predation risk
  • Stealth behavior
  • Defense


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