Phytoplankton and particle size spectra indicate intense mixotrophic dinoflagellates grazing from summer to winter


Mixotrophic dinoflagellates (MTD) are a diverse group of organisms often responsible for the formation of harmful algal blooms. However, the development of dinoflagellate blooms and their effects on the plankton community are still not well explored. Here we relate the species succession of MTD with parallel changes of phytoplankton size spectra during periods of MTD dominance. We used FlowCAM analysis to acquire size spectra in the range 2–200 μm every one or two weeks from July to December 2007 at Helgoland Roads (Southern North Sea). Most size spectra of dinoflagellates were bimodal, whereas for other groups, e.g. diatoms and autotrophic flagellates, the spectra were unimodal, which indicates different resource use strategies of autotrophs and mixotrophs. The biomass lost in the size spectrum correlates with the potential grazing pressure of MTD. Based on size-based analysis of trophic linkages, we suggest that mixotrophy, including detritivory, drives species succession and facilitates the formation of bimodal size spectra. Bimodality in particular indicates niche differentiation through grazing of large MTD on smaller MTD. Phagotrophy of larger MTD may exceed one of the smaller MTD since larger prey was more abundant than smaller prey. Under strong light limitation, a usually overlooked refuge strategy may derive from detritivory. The critical role of trophic links of MTD as a central component of the plankton community may guide future observational and theoretical research.
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