Microbial Ecology

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 111–136 | Cite as

The role of ciliated protozoa in pelagic freshwater ecosystems

  • John R. Beaver
  • Thomas L. Crisman


The abundance and biomass of ciliates are both strongly related to lake trophic status as measured by chlorophylla concentrations. Taxonomic replacements occur with increasing eutrophication such that large-bodied forms (predominantly oligotrichs) are progressively replaced by smaller-bodied ciliates (mainly scuticociliates). Highly acidic lakes display a more pronounced dominance of large-bodied forms when contrasted with less acidic lakes of comparable trophy. Community structure of ciliate populations is determined largely by lake trophy with acidic oligotrophic systems being characterized by reduced diversity and species richness compared with hypereutrophic systems. The temporal and spatial distribution of small (< 100μm) ciliate populations is ascribed to lake thermal regimes which provide localized concentrations of food resources. Likewise, in extremely productive lakes, very large (> 100μm) meroplanktonic ciliates enter the water column during midsummer after the development of thermal stratification and associated profundal deoxygenation. Laboratory studies indicate that large zooplankton (crustaceans) are capable of utilizing ciliates as a food source, but there is little direct evidence from field studies documenting this trophic link. Ciliates can be voracious grazers of both bacterioplankton and phytoplankton, and each species has a distinct range of preferred particle size which is a function of both mouth size and morphology. Myxotrophic ciliates may be important components in some plankton communities, particularly during periods of nutrient limitation or after their displacement from the benthos of eutrophic lakes. Evidence regarding the importance of planktonic ciliated protozoa in nutrient regeneration and as intermediaries in energy flow is discussed.


Phytoplankton Nutrient Limitation Prefer Particle Acidic Lake Trophic Link 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • John R. Beaver
    • 1
  • Thomas L. Crisman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Engineering SciencesUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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