, Volume 81, Issue 1-4, pp 327-341

The significance of inter- and intraspecific variation in bacterivorous and herbivorous protists

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Abstract

This paper reviews the emerging evidence on the significance of inter- and intraspecific variation in the feeding behaviour of aquatic protists. Small heterotrophic nanoflagellates (HNF) have been identified as the primary bacterial consumers in most aquatic environments. Recent research using novel techniques such as flow cytometry and high resolution video microscopy revealed that their feeding strategies and grazing rates are diverse. There is an important conceptual difference between uptake rates measured in short-term (min to h) experiments and grazing rates averaged over a longer-term (d). This is because the latter are strongly affected by digestion rates which are species-specific, i.e. the same bacterial prey may be digested differently by various grazers, and the same predator may selectively digest variable prey. Planktonic ciliates are the most important algal consumers in many lakes and marine systems. Large species-specific differences in their feeding behaviour and growth rates have been documented for closely related species. Intraspecific variation, which is, most likely, caused by varying clonal composition may be as important as interspecific variation. Finally, there is some evidence that the individual variability within a given population is generally large, both among bacterivorous HNF and among herbivorous ciliates. The consequences of this diversity becoming apparent at the levels of the species, population, clone and individual need to be considered by aquatic ecologists in their conceptual models.

This revised version was published online in August 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.