, Volume 255-256, Issue 1, pp 231-246

Rotifers as predators on components of the microbial web (bacteria, heterotrophic flagellates, ciliates) — a review

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Abstract

Recent investigations have shown that processes within the planktonic microbial web are of great significance for the functioning of limnetic ecosystems. However, the general importance of protozoans and bacteria as food sources for rotifers, a major component of planktonic habitats, has seldom been evaluated. Results of feeding experiments and the analysis of the food size spectrum of rotifers suggest that larger bacteria, heterotrophic flagellates and small ciliates should be a common part of the food of most rotifer species. About 10–40 per cent of rotifers' food can consist of heterotrophic organisms of the microbial web. Field experiments have indicated that rotifer grazing should generally play a minor role in bacteria consumption compared to feeding by coexisting protozoans. However, according to recent experiments regarding food selection, rotifers should be efficient predators on protozoans. Laboratory experiments have revealed that even nanophagous rotifers can feed on ciliates. Preliminary microcosm and chemostat experiments have indicated that rotifers, due to their relatively low community grazing rates compared to the growth rates of bacteria and protozoans, should generally not be able (in contrast to some cladocerans) to suppress the microbial web via grazing, though they may structure it. Filter-feeding nanophagous rotifers (e.g. brachionids) seem to be significant feeders on the smaller organisms of the microbial web (bacteria, flagellates, small ciliates), whereas grasping species (e.g. synchaetids and asplanchnids) seem to be efficient predators on larger organisms (esp. ciliates). Another important role of rotifers is their feedback effect on the microbial web. Rotifers provide degraded algae, bacteria and protozoans to the microbial web and may promote microbial activity. Additional experimental work is necessary for a better understanding of the function of rotifers in aquatic ecosystems.