, Volume 153, Issue 5, pp 797-805

The role of marine aggregates in the ingestion of picoplankton-size particles by suspension-feeding molluscs

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Abstract

Suspension-feeding molluscs are important members of coastal communities and a large body of literature focuses on their feeding processes, including the efficiency of particle capture. Some molluscs, such as bivalves, capture individual picoplankton cells (0.2–2.0 μm) with a retention efficiency of less than 50%, leading to the assumption that such particles are not an important food resource. Picoplankton, however, are often concentrated in particle aggregates of much larger size. This study investigates the ability of suspension feeders to ingest picoplankton-size particles (0.2–2.0 μm) bound in marine aggregates. We fed clams (Mercenaria mercenaria), mussels (Mytilus edulis), oysters (Crassostrea virginica), scallops (Argopecten irradians) and slipper snails (Crepidula fornicata) 1.0- and 0.5-μm fluorescent particles (either polystyrene beads or bacteria) that were (1) dispersed in seawater, or (2) embedded within laboratory-made aggregates. Dispersed 10-μm beads were also delivered so that feeding activity could be determined. Ingested fluorescent particles were recovered in feces or isolated digestive glands and quantified. Results indicate that aggregates significantly enhance the ingestion of 1.0- and 0.5-μm beads by all species of bivalves, and enhance the ingestion of bacteria (greatest cell dimension ca. 0.6 μm) by all suspension feeders examined. Differences among species in their ability to ingest aggregates and picoplankton-size particles, however, were evident. Compared to mussels and clams, scallops and oysters ingested fewer aggregates with 1.0-μm beads or bacteria, and slipper snails ingested the most dispersed beads and bacteria. These differences may be a consequence of variations in gill structure and mechanisms of particle processing. Our data demonstrate that suspension feeders can ingest picoplankton-size particles that are embedded within aggregates, and suggest that such constituent particles may be an important food resource.

Communicated by R.J. Thompson.