Grazing impact of two small heterotrophic flagellates

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Unformatted text preview: Vol. 26: 201–207, 2001 AQUATIC MICROBIAL ECOLOGY Aquat Microb Ecol Published December 5 NOTE Grazing impact of two small heterotrophic flagellates on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus Laure Guillou1,*, Stéphan Jacquet1,**, Marie-Josèphe Chrétiennot-Dinet2, Daniel Vaulot1 1 Station Biologique de Roscoff, CNRS, INSU and Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Place Georges Teissier, BP 74, 29682 Roscoff Cedex, France 2 Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls, CNRS, INSU and Université Pierre et Marie Curie, BP 44, 66651 Banyuls-sur-mer, France ABSTRACT: In open oceanic waters, phytoplankton biomass is dominated by organisms below 2 to 3 µm in size (pico- and small nanophytoplankton). The cell concentration of these populations is very stable in time and space as a consequence of nutrient limitation and strong grazing pressure. Although the identity of the organisms that directly graze on picoplankton is largely unknown, they are thought to be very small, i.e. < 3 to 5 µm. Here, we analyze the grazing impact of 2 small flagellates, Symbiomonas scintillans and Picophagus flagellatus, upon 2 oceanic cyanobacteria, Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. S. scintillans does not feed on the 2 cyanobacteria. In contrast, P. flagellatus appears as an active predator capable of drastically reducing prey concentrations. The flagellate displays a substantial division rate of the order of 2 doublings d−1 when fed on Prochlorococcus cells, but no significant growth is recorded when Synechococcus is used as prey. As the majority (> 80%) of P. flagellatus cells can pass throughout a 2 µm filter, the impact of such tiny predators should be taken into consideration during field experiments that rely on size fractionation to separate grazers from prey. KEY WORDS: Heterotrophic flagellates · Stramenopiles · Picoplankton · Picophagus flagellatus · Symbiomonas scintillans · Prochlorococcus · Synechococcus · Grazing Resale or republication not permitted without written consent of the publisher In most oligotrophic and mesotrophic areas of the world oceans, primary production is dominated by cells of < 2 to 3 µm (picophytoplankton) (Li et al. 1983, Platt et al. 1983). Picophytoplankton is composed of the 2 cyanobacteria genera Prochlorococcus (Chisholm et al. 1992) and Synechococcus (Waterbury et al. 1979) and a Present addresses: **Institut de Ciències del Mar, CISC Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta 37–45, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. **E-mail: [email protected] **Station INRA d’Hydrologie Lacustre, Laboratoire Dynamique et Evolution des Communautés Phytoplanctoniques, UMR CARRTEL, BP 511, 74203 Thonon Cedex, France © Inter-Research 2001 · www.int-res.com poorly defined assemblage of eukaryotic algae (Johnson & Sieburth 1982, Andersen et al. 1996). Despite growth rates of the order of 1 division d−1 (Liu et al. 1995, Vaulot et al. 1995), the abundance of these populations remains at nearly constant levels over time scales ranging from days to years (Campbell et al. 1997). Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus cells are too small to be consumed directly by mesozooplankton, including small copepods and cladocerans. The carbon sequestered as a result of photosynthesis moves to higher trophic levels via intermediate small grazers, mainly identified as flagellates (Sherr et al. 1986, Hagström et al. 1988). Size fractionation experiments have revealed that the first level of grazers is significantly smaller than 5 µm (typically below 2 to 3 µm in diameter) in coastal waters (Wikner & Hagström 1988), in the upper water column of the Arctic Ocean (Sherr et al. 1997), and in more oligotrophic ecosystems, such as the Mediterranean Sea (Zohary & Robarts 1992), the Sargasso Sea (Caron et al. 1999), and the Arabian Sea (Reckerman & Veldhuis 1997). Nevertheless, most of these tiny oceanic planktonic predators remain unidentified. During an oceanographic cruise conducted in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (OLIPAC, November 1994), we made systematic isolations to investigate picoplanktonic diversity. Surprisingly, without any addition of organic matter, 2 different heterotrophic flagellates of very small size (< 4 µm) were isolated from surface waters in the transition zone separating the oligotrophic gyre from the equatorial upwelling (Guillou et al. 1999a). Because very little is known about the potential grazing activity of such small flagellates on picoplanktonic populations, we conducted laboratory experiments to examine the consumption by Picophagus flagellatus and Symbiomonas scintillans of the 2 widespread very small marine cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus (0.6 µm) and Synechococcus (1.0 µm). 202 Aquat Microb Ecol 26: 201–207, 2001 Materials and methods. Picophagus flagellatus (Chrysophyceae, RCC 22, RCC = Roscoff Culture Collection, Station Biologique de Roscoff, France, see www.sb-roscoff.fr/Phyto/collect.html for more information) and Symbiomonas scintillans (Bicosoecida, RCC 24) were initially isolated in K medium (Keller et al. 1987) by serial dilution from equatorial Pacific waters (150° W, 11° 50’ S, 15 m depth). One month before the grazing experiments, cultures of P. flagellatus and S. scintillans were acclimated to the culture conditions of Prochlorococcus SS 120 (CCMP 1375, CCMP = Culture Center for Marine Phytoplankton, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, West Boothbay Harbor, ME) and Synechococcus WH 8103 in PCRS11 medium (Rippka et al. 2000), at 19°C with 15 µmol quanta m–2 s–1 of continuous blue light provided by cool-white fluorescent bulbs wrapped in a blue filter (Lee filter, Panavision, France). Thin sections were prepared as in Guillou et al. (1999a). Long- and short-term experiments were conducted using the same controls and experiment flasks. Controls were prepared by mixing different solutions of 0.2 µm-filtered medium from Prochlorococcus (Pro) (C1), Synechococcus (Syn) (C2), and predator (C3) cultures: (1) 50 ml of Pro culture + 150 ml of C3; (2) 50 ml of Syn culture + 150 ml of C3; (3) Pro and Syn, 25 ml of each prey cultures + 150 ml of C3; (4) 150 ml of predator culture + 25 ml of both C1 and C2. The other flasks received 150 ml of predator culture and 50 ml of prey cultures ([5] Pro + predator; [6] Syn + predator; [7] Pro + Syn + predator). First, we performed long-term experiments (6 d) during which we analyzed the grazing behavior and growth response of a given diet, i.e. Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus using exponentially growing prey. Second, we determined grazing parameters (grazing, clearance and ingestion rates, and specific clearance, see below) from short-term experiments (10 h) to minimize changes in grazer concentration on the estimated parameter. The concentration of the prey (Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus) and Picophagus flagellatus were followed by sampling 1 ml every 2.5 h. Prey concentrations were adjusted to 2 and 7 × 105 cell ml–1 for Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus respectively, in order to mimic the highest concentrations found in oceanic waters. The concentration of P. flagellatus was adjusted to be 1 order of magnitude lower than that of the prey. During these experiments, 1 ml was sampled from each treatment several times a day. Concentrations were determined in triplicates using flow cytometry (FCM, FACSort, Becton Dickinson, CA) after appropriate dilution using 0.2 µm-filtered seawater to avoid FCM coincidence. Because the cultures were nonaxenic, we also monitored the concentration of hetero- trophic bacteria. Heterotrophic bacteria and heterotrophic flagellates were counted after staining of intracellular nucleic acids by the SYBR Green I dye (Molecular Probes, Eugene, OR) according to Marie et al. (2000). When possible, the heterotrophic flagellates were also detected from the autofluorescence of their ingested prey. All parameters were normalized with 0.95 µm-calibrated beads. Data were collected as list mode files (i.e. parameter values were stored for each cell) and analyzed using the CYTOWIN software (Vaulot 1989; available at www.sb-roscoff.fr/Phyto/ cyto.html). Growth and grazing parameters were calculated using the equations established by Frost (1972) and Heinbokel (1978) and revised by Marin and coworkers (1986), as summarized below: Net growth rate, µ (d–1), of the preys in the control flasks and of the predator in all flasks during long-term experiments was estimated as µ= lnC (t2 ) – lnC (t1 ) t2 – t1 (1) where C(t ) is the concentration (cell ml–1) of the prey or of the predator at time t (d) and t1 and t2 correspond to the time at the beginning and the end of the experiment respectively. Grazing rate, g (d–1), was computed for the shortterm experiment as g= ln C (t1 ) – ln C (t2 ) t2 – t1 (2) where C(t ) is the concentration of the prey (cell ml–1) mixed with the grazer (this equation assumes that the growth rate of the prey is close to zero) and t2 − t1 is the total duration of the experiment (10 h). Clearance rate, F (ml cell–1 h–1), was computed for the short-term experiment as F= g 24 × Cg (3) – where Cg is the mean concentration of the grazer (cell –1 ml ) during the experiment. Ingestion rate, IR ([cells eaten] flagellate–1 h–1), was computed during the short-term experiment as – IR = F × Cp (4) – where Cp is the mean concentration of the prey (cell ml–1). Specific clearance, SC (ml cell–1 m– 3 h–1), was computed during the short-term experiment as SC = F Vg (5) where Vg is the biovolume of grazer (m3). The carbon conversion factors (B) used in this study were 250 fg C cell–1 for Synechococcus (Kana & Glibert Guillou et al.: Grazing impact of flagellates on cyanobacteria 203 1987), 50 fg C cell–1 for Prochlorococcus (Cailliau et al. 1996) and 100 fg C µm– 3 for living Picophagus flagellatus (Bφrsheim & Bratbak 1987). Because the previous size description of P. flagellatus was based upon fixed cells (Guillou et al. 1999a), we measured the size of living cells by optical microscopy (Olympus Fluoview) calibrated using a micrometer. P. flagellatus was found to have a mean width of 2.2 µm and a mean length of 3.2 µm. With a cell volume of 8.1 µm3, as calculated from the volume of an ellipsoid, the carbon content of P. flagellatus was thus estimated to be 810 fg C cell–1. Carbon transfer efficiency (CE ) was computed during the long-term experiment as CE = (C g’ – C g ) × Bg (C p – C p’ ) × Bp (6) where Cg’ is the final concentration of the grazer mixed with the prey, Cg the final concentration of the grazer in the control flasks (without prey), Cp the final prey concentration in the control flasks (without grazer), Cp’ the final concentration of the prey mixed with the grazer (cell ml–1), and Bg and Bp the carbon biomass (fg C cell–1) of the grazer and prey, respectively, estimated as detailed above. Fig. 2. Time-course changes in cell concentration of Prochlorococcus (s, Pro), Synechococcus (d, Syn), and heterotrophic bacteria (m, Het bact), during long-term experiments using Picophagus flagellatus (f). Solid symbols: control cultures without heterotrophic flagellates; open symbols: autotrophic cultures mixed with the corresponding heterotrophic flagellates. (A−C) Changes in the cell concentration of (A) Prochloroccocus, (B) Synechococcus, and (C) mixed culture of Prochlorococcus + Synechococcus. (D) Change in the cell concentration (log scale) of P. flagellatus alone or mixed with prey. Heterotrophic bacteria are also presented in flasks containing Prochlorococcus (A) and Synechococcus (B) Fig. 1. Time-course changes in cell concentrations of Prochlorococcus (s, Pro), Synechococcus (d, Syn), and heterotrophic bacteria (m, Het bact), during long-term experiments using Symbiomonas scintillans. Solid symbols: control cultures without heterotrophic flagellates; open symbols: autotrophic cultures mixed with the corresponding heterotrophic flagellates. (A−C) Changes in cell concentration of (A) Prochloroccocus, (B) Synechococcus, (C) mixed culture of Prochlorococcus + Synechococcus and (A,B) heterotrophic bacteria. Concentrations were determined in triplicates, counting error bars were always smaller than the data points Results. No clear differences in cell numbers were observed between the control flasks and the different cultures mixed with Symbiomonas scintillans (Fig. 1). We were not able to count the flagellate by flow cytometry when it was mixed with autotrophic prey because of its relative low concentration and the overlapping of its signature by flow cytometry with those of heterotrophic bacteria. In contrast, grazing of Picophagus flagellatus on Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus was clearly observed (Fig. 2) after 2 d of incubation. The predator cell number increased from 104 cells ml–1 initially to 106 cells ml–1 after 4 d. P. flagellatus fed on Prochlorococcus drastically reduced the prey population (the final Prochlorococcus concentration in the control flask was 1.2 × 108 cells ml–1 vs 5.8 × 105 cells ml–1 in the flask mixed with P. flagellatus, see Table 1). The maximal 204 Aquat Microb Ecol 26: 201–207, 2001 Table 1. Long-term experiments (6 d). Growth rates and concentrations of Picophagus flagellatus feeding on Prochlorococcus (Pro), Synechococcus (Syn) and mixed cultures of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus (Pro + Syn) Pro Picophagus flagellatus Maximum growth rate (d–1) Initial P. flagellatus concentration (cells ml–1) ± SD Final P. flagellatus concentration in flasks mixed with prey (cells ml–1) ± SD Increase in flagellate carbon (fg C ml–1) in flasks mixed with prey Syn Pro + Syn 1.6 104 ± 2 × 103 1.7 × 106 ± 2 × 105 1.36 × 109 0.6 104 ± 2 × 103 105 ± 8 × 103 7.29 × 107 1.5 104 ± 2 × 103 1.1 × 106 ± 3 × 105 8.83 × 108 Cyanobacteria prey Growth rate (d–1) estimated from control flasks 0.3 0.3 0.24 0.38 Initial prey concentration (cells ml–1) ± SD 2 × 107 ± 5 × 105 1 × 107 ± 1 × 105 1 × 107 ± 8 × 104 5 × 106 ± 6 × 104 Final prey concentration in control flasks 1.2 × 108 ± 2 × 106 7.3 × 107 ± 3 × 106 5.4 × 107 ± 7 × 105 4.5 × 107 ± 1 × 105 (cells ml–1) ± SD Final prey concentration in flasks mixed 5.8 × 105 ± 6 × 103 4 × 107 ± 6 × 105 1 × 106 ± 5 × 105 3 × 105 ± 6 × 103 with P. flagellatus (cells ml–1) ± SD 5.9 × 109 8.2 × 109 2.6 × 109 1.1 × 1010 Consumption of carbon (fg C ml–1) in 6 d Carbon transfer efficiency (%) 23 0.9 6 growth rate of P. flagellatus feeding on Prochlorococcus was larger than 2 doublings d−1 (µ = 1.6 d–1, Table 1), and the concentration of the predator reached a final density of 1.7 × 106 cells ml–1 (Table 1). The use of Synechococcus as a prey induced significantly less efficient prey removal (Fig. 2B) as well as a lower maximum growth rate (µ = 0.6 d–1, Table 1) and a lower final concentration (105 cells ml–1, Table 1) for P. flagellatus. When P. flagellatus was fed with the 2 photosynthetic prey given together, it grazed on them and drastically reduced both of them (Fig. 2C), although its growth rate and final cell numbers were lower than when it was fed on Prochlorococcus alone (Table 1). It is noteworthy that, at a similar prey concentration, P. flagellatus grazed first on Synechococcus rather than on Prochlorococcus. However, when Prochorococcus became about 3 times more concentrated than Synechococcus, it began to be eaten as well. In terms of carbon transfer efficiency, Synechococcus is a very poor food (less than 1% when offered alone). Comparatively, Prochlorococcus contributed to 23% of the carbon transfer efficiency (Table 1). At the end of the experiment, we observed that the side scatter (SSC) parameter of P. flagellatus, a proxy for cell size, was much higher when it was fed on Synechococcus (SSC = 2.2 relative to 0.95 µm beads) than on Prochlorococcus (SSC = 1.45) or on a mixture of the prey (SSC = 1.5). Microscopic observations also revealed that P. flagellatus lost its motility when fed on Synechococcus alone. Heterotrophic bacteria were also present, since the cultures were not axenic. At the beginning of the longterm experiment, their concentration was 10 times lower than Prochlorococcus and similar to that of the cyanobacteria in the other cases. However, in all experiments, they only represented a minor fraction of the consumed prey (Fig. 2A,B). The concentration of Picophagus flagellatus did not change significantly during the short-term experiment (10 h) and remained around 2.5 × 104 cell ml–1 in all flasks. Under these conditions, a reduction in both Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus cells was evident after 2.5 h of incubation (Fig. 3). Clearance rates of P. flagellatus were estimated to be 2.3 nl cell–1 h–1 for Prochlorococcus and 2.5 nl cell–1 h–1 for Synechococcus (Table 2). When the 2 prey were mixed together, the clearance rate for Synechococcus was more than twice as high as that for Prochlorococcus (Table 2). The clearance rate for Synechococcus was also higher when it was mixed with Prochlorococcus (3.8 nl cell–1 h–1) than when it was offered alone (2.5 nl cell–1 h–1). Since in this study we used the highest prey concentration found in natural samples, our estimates of clearance rates are probably on the low side. Ingestion rate was higher with Prochlorococcus alone than with Synechococcus alone or mixed with Prochlorococcus (Table 2). Based on our calculations, an individual P. flagellatus ate an average of 1 Prochlorococcus h−1. Based on electron microscopy sections, an individual P. flagellatus could indeed contain 1 or 2 entire or partly digested prey (Fig. 4). Discussion. Picophagus flagellatus and Symbiomonas scintillans belong to the Stramenopiles (Guillou et al. 1999a). This lineage is known to include several active phagotrophic species such as Paraphysomonas spp. (Chrysophyceae) and Cafeteria spp. (Bicosoecida). A number of features suggested phagotrophy in Guillou et al.: Grazing impact of flagellates on cyanobacteria 205 Fig. 4. Thin section of Picophagus flagellatus feeding with Prochlorococcus observed in transmission electron microscopy. A mitochondrion (m) and 2 food vesicle containing partially digested Prochlorococcus (p) are visible. Scale bar = 500 nm Fig. 3. Time-course changes in cell concentration of Prochlorococcus (s, Pro) and Synechococcus (d, Syn) during short-term experiments using Picophagus flagellatus. Prey (left scale): (A) Prochlorococcus, (B) Synechococcus, and (C) mixed culture of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. Bars (right scale) represent P. flagellatus concentration in the mixed culture P. flagellatus and S. scintillans. Indeed, both of them bear a hairy flagellum and a complex microtubule network (Guillou et al. 1999a), which are known to help in prey capture (Andersen & Wetherbee 1992). The long hairy flagellum of P. flagellatus is very spectacular in this context (over 6 times the cell diameter). Typically, half of the cellular volume of P. flagellatus is filled with large phagotrophic vesicles that sometimes contain recognizable bacteria, demonstrating that this flagellate feeds on free-living heterotrophic bacteria present in the cultures (as they are not axenic). Several micro- graphs also revealed the phagotrophic capacities of S. scintillans (see Fig. 1D from Guillou et al. 1999a). This latter species is characterized by the presence of several endosymbiotic bacteria located close to the nucleus (Guillou et al. 1999a). Although this species can apparently be phagotrophic (Guillou et al. 1999a), it does not appear to be an active predator of either Synechococcus or Prochlorococcus or of the free-living heterotrophic bacteria contained in our cultures. This suggests that S. scintillans may feed on other prey, such as smaller heterotrophic bacteria typically found in marine waters, but it may also feed by osmotrophy. In this context, the trophic role of S. scintillans endosymbiotic bacteria deserves further scrutiny. In contrast, Picophagus flagellatus is an active predator of both Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. At a similar prey concentration, Synechococcus is Table 2. Short-term experiments (10 h). Growth and grazing parameters measured for Picophagus flagellatus feeding on Prochlorococcus (Pro), Synechococcus (Syn) and on mixed cultures of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus (Pro + Syn) Grazing parameters Prey growth rate (h–1) determined in controls Grazing rate (h–1) Mean grazer concentration (cells ml–1) ± SD Mean prey concentration (cells ml–1) ± SD Clearance rate (10– 6 ml cell–1 h–1) Ingestion ([cells eaten] flagellate–1 h–1) Specific clearance (104 ml cell–1 m– 3 h–1) Pro Syn Pro + Syn 0.0058 −0.0057 0.045 0.107 2.8 × 104 ± 3 × 103 2.6 × 105 ± 5 × 104 1.2 × 105 ± 5 × 104 1.6 3.8 0.4 0.4 19 47 0.0056 −0.0046 0.052 0.061 2.3 × 104 ± 6 × 103 2.4 × 104 ± 3 × 103 5.2 × 105 ± 1 × 105 2.7 × 105 ± 8 × 104 2.3 2.5 1.2 0.7 28 30 206 Aquat Microb Ecol 26: 201–207, 2001 grazed in preference to Prochlorococcus or heterotrophic bacteria. The clearance rates of P. flagellatus fall into the lower range reported for larger heterotrophic nano-flagellates both in cultures (mainly based on Paraphysomonas spp.) and in the field, i.e. 0.5 to 27 nl flagellate–1 h–1 for Synechococcus (Christoffersen 1994, Dolan & 2imek 1999) or 4 to 24 nl flagellate–1 h–1 for Prochlorococcus (Monger et al. 1999). However, it should be noted that our estimates are derived from experiments using very high prey concentrations. The specific clearance rate is higher for Synechococcus than for Prochlorococcus, and 10 to 100 × higher than that calculated for ciliates (Christaki et al. 1999). However, Synechococcus is not efficiently assimilated, as is suggested by the very low carbon transfer efficiency we found. The P. flagellatus volume increases observed at the end of the long-term experiment could be due to the fact that Synechococcus cells are not digested. This poor digestibility of Synechococcus has been observed recently in appendicularians (Gorsky et al. 1999). Similarly, Caron et al. (1991) reported that protozoa displayed faster growth rates and higher cell yields on heterotrophic bacteria than on Synechococcus. In contrast, Synechococcus is efficiently consumed by some ciliates, such as Strombidium sulcatum (Christaki et al. 1999). Using the particle-size model of Sheldon et al. (1972), Azam et al. (1983) suggested that in marine food chains the optimum size difference between a predator and its prey is about 1 order of magnitude in length (or 103 in volume) with a carbon transfer efficiency of 10% between each compartment. For microbial food webs, it is widely accepted that this predator:prey size ratio is smaller (Goldman & Caron 1985, Hansen et al. 1994). The current paradigm is that 0.4 to 1 µm bacteria are grazed by 5 µm nanoflagellates, themselves being grazed by 10 to 20 µm nanozooplankton or larger ciliates. If we consider a predator:prey size ratio of 3:1 and a 2 to 4 µm size for Picophagus flagellatus, this species can potentially graze all prey smaller than 1.3 µm in diameter. Of the cells of P. flagellatus, 87% pass through a 2 µm filter. Therefore, field experiments based upon size fractionation should take into account that the < 2 to 3 µm fraction is not potentially free of efficient heterotrophic predators. The existence of Picophagus flagellatus and Symbiomonas scintillans clearly demonstrates that the microbial food web may possess numerous additional steps and that the transfer efficiency of matter and energy to the higher trophic levels (i.e. to zooplankton such as copepods) is probably lower than previously hypothesized. In fact, the recent discovery of lineages based on the description of picoplanktonic species (Andersen et al. 1993, Guillou et al. 1999b) illustrates our very scant knowledge of the taxonomy of this size class. Cultured heterotrophic flagellates with sizes of less than 3 to 4 µm are restricted to date to the Stramenopile lineage. Recent molecular studies, based on the cloning and the sequencing of the small subunit ribosomal RNA gene, of the picoplankton fraction obtained from the euphotic zone in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (Moonvan der Staay et al. 2001) and from the deep aphotic zone in the Antarctic Polar Front (López-García et al. 2001) have provided evidence that cells passing through a 3 µm filter also contain 2 groups of previously unknown alveolates, which are very likely heterotrophic or parasitic given their close phylogenetic relatives. Clearly, this predator size class is much more taxonomically diverse than was previously thought. Their behavior and food preference are probably also very diverse, as exemplified by the difference in grazing behavior between P. flagellatus and S. scintillans. 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