1. Laboratory experiments were used to study the feeding, growth and reproduction of five daphnids in mixtures of a toxic cyanobacterium, Microcystis aeruginosa, and a green alga, Scenedesmus acutus. The mixtures included 0%, 20%, 50%, 80% and 100% Microcystis with a total food concentration of 0.5 mg C L−−1 in each treatment. The feeding rate was measured after 1 and 24 h of acclimatization to the mixtures.
2. Toxic Microcystis inhibited feeding in all the species, but they exhibited an unexpected diversity and complexity in the pattern of feeding inhibition. Daphnia magna exhibited the strongest inhibition of feeding after 1 h of exposure to toxic food, but had substantially recovered after 24 h in the same mixtures. This pattern of inhibition and recovery may balance the benefits of reduced ingestion of toxin with the disadvantage of a reduced energy intake.
3. All five daphnids grew quickly in the Scenedesmus control, whereas growth and reproduction declined with an increasing proportion of the toxic alga in the diet. Daphnia pulicaria showed the least inhibition of growth and reproduction, D. pulex showed the strongest inhibition and the three remaining species exhibited intermediate sensitivity.
4. Estimates of gross growth efficiency (GGE; growth/ingestion) provided a means for discriminating between the effects of feeding inhibition and direct toxicity on zooplankton growth. Daphnia pulex exhibited a sharp decline in GGE, suggesting that growth inhibition was a result of both feeding inhibition and direct toxicity. In contrast, D. magna exhibited a nearly constant GGE, indicating that feeding inhibition accounted for its decline in growth. However, two Daphnia species (i.e. D. pulicaria and D. galeata) exhibited improbable increases in GGE with toxic cyanobacteria, suggesting that their feeding rates were underestimated.
Growth assays with sensitive and resistant zooplankton species are proposed for testing the potential impacts toxic cyanobacteria in lakes.