1. We investigated trophic interactions between benthic heterotrophic nanoflagellates (HNF) and oligochaetes and microcrustaceans (cladocerans and copepods) transferred from a silty, littoral freshwater habitat to laboratory microcosms. With a newly adapted experimental design we were able to compute (i) predation rates on benthic HNF by the tested metazoan organisms and (ii) growth rates of the natural benthic HNF population when losses because of this predation were excluded.
2. The experiments covered a temperature range of 4–27 °C and a fivefold variation of predator densities (September 2000–February 2002). For 60% of these experiments, significant predation of oligochaetes and microcrustaceans on benthic HNF was revealed. Predation rates on HNF ranged from 0 to 0.256 day−1. Growth rates of the benthic HNF assemblage varied from −0.098 to 0.353 day−1; they were used to estimate the significance of the measured losses in comparison with possible other loss factors.
3. The data suggested that during the major part of the year a high percentage of the HNF production was consumed in the surficial sediment of the investigated system, resulting in a relatively constant and low HNF standing stock and an uncoupling of benthic bacteria and their protistan grazers. Top–down control by microcrustaceans and oligochaetes was identified as one significant, frequently prevailing regulatory factor, while other parameters responsible for the control of benthic HNF densities remain to be examined.