, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 350-363

Does Microorganism Stoichiometry Predict Microbial Food Web Interactions After a Phosphorus Pulse?

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Abstract

Knowledge of variations in microbial food web interactions resulting from atmospheric nutrient loads is crucial to improve our understanding of aquatic food web structure in pristine ecosystems. Three experiments mimicking atmospheric inputs at different nitrogen/phosphorus (N/P) ratios were performed in situ covering the seasonal biological succession of the pelagic zone in a high-mountain Spanish lake. In all experiments, abundance, biomass, algal cell biovolume, P-incorporation rates, P-cell quota, and N/P ratio of algae strongly responded to P-enrichment, whereas heterotrophic bacteria remained relatively unchanged. Ciliates were severely restricted when a strong algal exploitation of the available P (bloom growth or storage strategies) led to transient (mid-ice-free experiment) or chronic (late ice-free experiment) P-deficiencies in bacteria. In contrast, maximum development of ciliates was reached when bacteria remained P-rich (N/P < 20) and algae approached Redfield proportions (N/P∼16). Evidence of a higher P-incorporation rate supports the proposition that algae and bacteria shifted from a mainly commensalistic–mutualistic to a competitive relationship for the available P when bacterial P-deficiency increased, as reflected by their unbalanced N/P ratio (N/P > 20–24). Hence, the bacterial N/P ratio proved be a key factor to understand the algae–bacteria relationship and microbial food web development. This study not only demonstrates the interdependence of life history strategies, stoichiometric nutrient content, and growth but also supports the use of bacterial N/P thresholds for diagnosing ciliate development, a little-studied aspect worthy of further attention.