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Journal Article

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure - the effect of bacteria on phytoplankton-zooplankton interactions in chemostat systems


Sieber,  M.
Department Evolutionary Theory, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Raatz, M., Schälicke, S., Sieber, M., Wacker, A., & Gaedke, U. (2018). One man’s trash is another man’s treasure - the effect of bacteria on phytoplankton-zooplankton interactions in chemostat systems. Limnology and Oceanography: Methods, 16(10), 629-639. doi:10.1002/lom3.10269.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-7090-B
Chemostat experiments are employed to study predator-prey and other trophic interactions, frequently using phytoplankton-zooplankton systems. These experiments often use population dynamics as fingerprints of ecological and evolutionary processes, assuming that the contributions of all major actors to these dynamics are known. However, bacteria are often neglected although they are frequently present. We argue that even without external carbon sources bacteria may affect the experimental outcomes depending on experimental conditions and the physiological traits of bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton. Using a static carbon flux model and a dynamic simulation model we predict the minimum and maximum impact of bacteria on phytoplankton-zooplankton population dynamics. Under bacteria-suppressing conditions, we find that the effect of bacteria is indeed negligible and their omission justified. Under bacteria-favouring conditions, however, bacteria may strongly affect average biomasses. Furthermore, the population dynamics may become highly complex resulting in wrong conclusions if bacteria are not considered. Our model results provide suggestions to reduce the bacterial impact experimentally. Next to optimizing experimental conditions (e.g. the dilution rate) the appropriate choice of the zooplankton predator is decisive. Counterintuitively, bacteria have a larger impact if they are not ingested by the predator as high bacterial biomasses and complex population dynamics arise via competition for nutrients with the phytoplankton. Only if the predator is at least partly bacterivorous the impact of bacteria is minimized. Our results help to improve both the design of chemostat experiments and their interpretation and thus advance the study of ecological and evolutionary processes in aquatic food webs.