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During the end of spring and throughout summer, large‐sized phytoplankton taxa often proliferate and form dense blooms in freshwater ecosystems. In many cases, they are inedible to zooplankton and prevent efficient transfer of energy and elements to higher trophic levels. Such a constraint may be alleviated by fungal parasite infections on large‐sized phytoplankton taxa like diatoms and filamentous cyanobacteria, as infections may provide zooplankton with a complementary food source in the form of fungal zoospores. Zoospores have been shown to support somatic growth of large filter feeding zooplankton species. Here, we tested if selectively feeding zooplankton, more specifically rotifers, also can use fungal zoospores as a food source. Our results show that chytrid fungal parasites can indeed support population growth of rotifers (Keratella sp.). Specifically, in cultures of an inedible filamentous cyanobacterium (Planktothrix rubescens), Keratella populations rapidly declined, while in Planktothrix cultures infected with chytrids, Keratella population growth rate equaled the growth observed for populations fed with a more suitable green algal diet (Chlorella sorokiniana). Feeding of Keratella on zoospores was furthermore indicated by a reduced number of zoospores during the last sampling day. These findings not only imply that rotifers may survive on zoospores, but also that the zoospores can support high rotifer population growth rates. We thus show that fungal parasites of inedible cyanobacteria can facilitate grazers by providing them alternative food sources. Together, these results highlight the important role that parasites may play in the aquatic plankton food web.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2384-2393
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Volume63
Issue number6
Early online date2018
DOI
StatePublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • international

ID: 6617019