• behavior;
  • Chlamydomonas;
  • ciliary motility;
  • flagellar motility;
  • phototaxis;
  • Volvocales;
  • Volvox

We tested two competing models that could explain how differential flagellar activity leads to phototactic turning in spheroids of Volvox carteri f. weismannia (Powers) Iyengar. In one model, turning results from the flagella of anterior cells in the lighted and shadowed hemispheres beating at different frequencies. In a competing model, turning results from a change in beat direction in these flagella. Both models successfully explain phototactic steering under constant illumination, but they make different predictions when colonies are exposed to abrupt changes in light intensity. If turning is due to control of flagellar beat frequency, both progression and rotation rates will change in the same direction and with similar magnitudes. If spheroid turning is due to a change in flagellar beat direction, a decreased rate of progression will accompany an increased rate of rotation and vice versa. We used video-microscopy to observe the behavior of positively phototactic V. carteri spheroids exposed to 10× step-up and step-down stimuli. After a step-up stimulus, spheroids slow their progression and rotation by equal amounts. No significant changes are reported in these parameters after the reciprocal step-down response. These observations are consistent with the variable flagellar frequency model and inconsistent with the variable flagellar direction model for phototactic turning. Switching the direction of light stimulus by 180° results in reorientation of positively phototactic spheroids. The kinetics of this reorientation did not precisely match the predictions of either model.