Increased production of faecal pellets by the benthic harpacticoid Paramphiascella fulvofasciata: importance of the food source
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The re-use of faecal pellets in the water column before sinking to the seafloor is known as an important pathway in marine food webs. Especially planktonic copepods seems to be actively use their faecal pellets. Since benthic copepods (order Harpacticoida) live in the vicinity of their pellets, it remains unclear how important these pellets are for their feeding ecology. In the present study a laboratory experiment was conducted to analyse the importance of faecal pellets for the feeding ecology of the harpacticoid Paramphiascella fulvofasciata and its grazing pressure on two diatom species (Seminavis robusta, Navicula phyllepta). By quantifying the amount and volume of the produced faecel pellets in different treatments, it was tested to what extent the food source and the lack of faecal pellets would influence the production of faecal pellets. We found that the grazing pressure of P. fulvofasciata depended on the diatom density since only a top-down effect could be found on the smaller Navicula cells during its initial exponential growth phase. The grazer had a negative effect on the diatom growth and controlled the cell density to about 4,000 cells/cm2. In spite of the fact that the addition of faecal pellets did not show a significant positive effect on the assimilation of diatoms, the removal of faecal pellets strongly promoted the pellet production. Especially when grazing on Navicula the harpacticoid P. fulvofasciata produced significantly more and smaller faecal pellets when the pellets were removed. This outcome illustrates the need for faecal pellets of this harpacticoid copepod when grazing on the diatom Navicula. Apart from its selection for smaller diatom cells, it was suggested that the colonisation of heterotrophic bacteria enriched these pellets. This study is the first to indicate that trophic upgrading occurs on faecal pellets and not only on the initial autotrophic food sources per se.