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Protist. 2003 Apr;154(1):91-8.

Mixotrophy of a photosynthetic flagellate viewed from an optimal foraging perspective.

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Institut für Meereskunde, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany.


Mixotrophy, a combination of phototrophic and phagotrophic nutrition, has been found in several classes of phytoplankton (Booras et al. 1988, Jones 2000) and appears to be a successful evolutionary strategy. Heterotrophic nutrition of phytoplankton has been suggested to be an important source of mineral nutrients (Nygaard and Tobiesen 1993). Potentially limiting mineral nutrients, particularly phosphorus (P), are often several orders of magnitude more concentrated in the biomass of food organisms of mixotrophs (e.g. in bacteria) than in the dissolved phase (Vadstein 2000). We used radioactive tracer experiments to show that the simultaneous uptake of P from dissolved inorganic and particular P sources by the marine phytoflagellate Chrysochromulina polylepis followed basic predictions of optimal foraging theory (Stephens and Krebs 1986). Chrysochromulina takes up its P rather unselectively from both bacterial P and dissolved P sources at low dissolved P concentrations, while it becomes more selective at higher dissolved inorganic P (DIP) concentrations. The onset of mixotrophic processes was dependent on DIP concentrations. These findings support the view of mixotrophy as a strategy of nutrient uptake in nutrient poor (oligotrophic) pelagic environments (Nygaard and Tobiesen 1993) and show that ideas of optimal foraging can be applied to unicellular organisms.

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