Zooplankton Feeding Behavior and Particle Selection in Natural Plankton Assemblages Containing Toxic Alexandrium Spp

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Laboratory experiments suggest that toxic Alexandrium spp. cells are unpalatable to zooplankton grazers, and that toxic cells should be selectively avoided by zooplankton when feeding in mixtures of different prey species. Such avoidance, if practised in the wild, might contribute to harmful bloom formation by reducing losses of Alexandrium spp. due to grazing. In the spring of 1998 and 1999, during Œred tide¹ outbreaks in the southwestern Gulf of Maine, weekly experiments were performed using field collected natural water samples with ambient phytoplankton and dominant mesozooplankton grazers. The feeding response of Acartia hudsonica, Semibalanus balanoides nauplii, and Calanus finmarchicus was tested during various weeks in natural water samples with low concentrations of Alexandrium spp. (~1000 cells l-1, typical natural concentrations for this region). Semibalanus sp. nauplii consistently avoided toxic Alexandrium spp. and other dinoflagellates. C. finmarchicus selectively fed on diatoms when they were abundant, and fed non-selectively on all dinoflagellates (except Ceratium spp.) when the spring bloom declined and dinoflagellates dominated. A. hudsonica non-selectively cleared Alexandrium spp. throughout the study periods. During spring Alexandrium spp. bloom formation, if non-selective grazers such as A. hudsonica dominate the zooplankton, Alexandrium spp. losses from grazing depend on grazer abundance (biomass); if selective feeders such as S. balanoides nauplii dominate, then Alexandrium spp. benefits from reduced grazing losses relative to alternative prey.