Trophic position, elemental ratios and nitrogen transfer in a planktonic host–parasite–consumer food chain including a fungal parasite

Virginia Sánchez Barranco (Corresponding author), Marcel T.J. Van der Meer, M. Kagami, S. Van den Wyngaert, D.B. van de Waal, E. van Donk, Alena Gsell

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Parasitism is arguably the most commonly occurring consumer strategy. However, only a few food web studies assess how well stable isotopes reflect the trophic position of parasitic consumers and results are variable. Even fewer studies have measured the nutrient transfer by parasitic consumers, hindering an assessment of their role in nutrient transfer through food webs. Here we used a food chain consisting of a diatom as host, a chytrid as its parasitic consumer and a rotifer as the predatory consumer of the chytrid, to assess the trophic position of all three food-chain components using their natural 13C and 15N isotope signatures, and to measure the nitrogen transfer from the host via the chytrid to the rotifer by tracing 15N of a labelled host up the food chain. Additionally, we measured the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratios of all food-chain components. Natural isotope abundance results showed no clear 15N enrichment in the chytrid or rotifer relative to the primary producer. However, estimates of nitrogen transfer indicated that about 14% of host nitrogen was transferred per day from host to chytrid during infection epidemics and that some of this nitrogen was also transferred onward to the rotifer. Moreover, C:N ratios decreased with trophic level, suggesting that the chytrid provided a high-quality food source to the rotifer. In conclusion, our results support the “mycoloop”. The mycooloop proposes that chytrid infections allow the transfer of nutrients bound in large, inedible phytoplankton to zooplankton through the production of edible transmission spores, thereby rerouting nutrients back into the food web.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOecologia
Volumein press
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Plan_S-Compliant-TA
  • international

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