Microzooplankton grazing in Phaeocystis and diatom-dominated waters in the southern North Sea in spring

Stelfox-Widdicombe, C.E.; Archer, S.D.; Burkill, P.H.; Barnes, P.M.. 2004 Microzooplankton grazing in Phaeocystis and diatom-dominated waters in the southern North Sea in spring. Journal of Sea Research, 51 (1). 37-51.

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The impact of microzooplankton grazing upon phytoplankton production was quantified in surface waters of the Southern Bight of the North Sea, during April 1998. Two sites were studied in order to examine the impact of microzooplankton grazing on phytoplankton communities dominated by either Phaeocystis globosa and large phytoplankton or small phytoplankton taxa. The nearshore site was characterised by a phytoplankton community comprised mainly of P. globosa and chains of diatoms with high productivity (av. 346 ± 185 gC l−1 d−1) and biomass (280 ± 171 gC l−1 d−1). In contrast, in the offshore waters relatively small diatoms dominated the phytoplankton where productivity and biomass were more than ca. five times lower than in nearshore waters. Contrary to expectations, the nearshore site supported a high biomass of microzooplankton (av. 22.4 ± 10.6 gC l−1 d−1) which was dominated by large heterotrophic dinoflagellates, mostly Gyrodinium cf. spirale. Offshore the microzooplankton community contained one-third the biomass of the nearshore community and was dominated by smaller individuals, in particular oligotrich ciliates, Strombidium spp. Dilution experiments were conducted in order to quantify phytoplankton growth and losses due to microzooplankton grazing in the <200 m size fraction. Phytoplankton specific growth rates (<200 m) ranged between 0.13 and 0.67 d−1 with highest values associated with offshore waters. In contrast, phytoplankton mortality due to microzooplankton grazing (0.27 to 1.14 d−1) was highest at the nearshore site and exceeded the growth rates of the <200 m phytoplankton. Biomass specific grazing rates were three-fold higher in nearshore (av. 0.33 ± 0.23 d−1) waters compared to those offshore (av. 0.11 ± 0.09 d−1). These results show that microzooplankton were grazing more vigorously nearshore than offshore and were consistently cropping the production of the <200 m phytoplankton. This high grazing pressure is likely to drive a shift in community composition from smaller to larger cells, in particular colonies of P. globosa. The high grazing rates on smaller phytoplankton demonstrated in this study illustrate that microzooplankton grazing may be one of the driving forces behind the evolution of the Phaeocystis life-history strategy that involves a transition between solitary and colonial cells.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Additional Keywords: microzooplankton; grazing; seawater dilution; chlorophyll; Phaeocystis globosa; North Sea
Date made live: 14 Oct 2004 +0 (UTC)

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