Evaluation of the efficiency of metabolism of dinoflagellate phosphorus and carbon by a planktonic ciliate

M V Zubkov, Ray Leakey

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4 Citations (Scopus)


The trophic transfer of nutrients through the microbial food web is a key top-down control in aquatic ecosystems which is notoriously difficult to evaluate, particularly for planktonic protists. In this study, a sensitive dual-radioactive tracer technique was developed to simultaneously assess the ingestion rate, and carbon- and phosphorus-specific assimilation efficiencies, of the marine planktonic ciliate Strobilidium neptuni feeding on the autotrophic dinoflagellate Heterocapsa triquetra. Dinoflagellate prey were simultaneously 16 h pulse labelled with (NaHCO3)-C-14 and (H3PO4)-P-33 before being fed to the ciliate, and radioactive labels were traced into ciliate biomass and the experimental medium, as well as being monitored in the prey cells. Rates measured in short-term (10 min) incubations, as commonly used to estimate protist uptake of fluorescently labelled prey, were approximately 6 times higher and 3-6 times more variable than rates measured in longer 3-5 h incubations. The efficiency of accumulation of prey carbon (54+/-9%) by ciliates was lower than that of prey phosphorus (68+/-3%) suggesting that the phosphorus to carbon ratio in the ciliates was 1.3 times higher than in the labelled dinoflagellate biomass. Rates of phosphorus accumulation and release were combined to reveal that ciliates consumed 3.2+/-0.6 dinoflagellates cell(-1) h(-1). The assessment of carbon tracer release by ciliates was less reliable due to (CO2)-C-14 exchange between the experimental media and air. The study concludes that the dual phosphorus-carbon radioactive tracer labelling of algal prey allowed the quantification of protist herbivory and nutrient remineralisation in laboratory experiments, thereby providing a potential technique for studying planktonic microbial trophic interactions in situ. (C) 2008 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-173
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • PREY
  • Microbiology


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