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Keywords:

  • episodic shift;
  • microbial food web plankton

Abstract

Small freshwater bodies are abundant and economically and ecologically important on a global scale. Within these, protozoa play an important role in structuring planktonic food webs and sequestering CO2. We hypothesized that short-term (∼20 days) fluctuations, of 2–10 °C, will significantly alter carbon flux associated with predator–prey interactions within the microbial planktonic food web. We examined the model ciliate, Urotricha farcta, which is abundant and common; it was fed the autotrophic flagellate Cryptomonas sp., which is also common. Laboratory experiments were conducted over relevant ranges: 8–24 °C; 0–2 × 105 prey mL−1. Mechanistic-phenomenological multiple regressions were developed and fit to the data to obtain relationships for (1) growth rate and volume changes of the flagellate vs. temperature and (2) growth rates, grazing, and cell volume change of the ciliate vs. temperature and prey concentration. Responses revealed interaction between temperature and prey levels on all ciliate parameters, indicating it is inappropriate to apply simple temperature corrections (e.g. Q10) to such functions. The potential impact of such temperature changes on carbon flux was illustrated using a simple ciliate–flagellate predator–prey model, with and without the top grazer, Daphnia, added. The model indicated that predator–prey pulses occurred over 20 days, with the ciliate controlling the prey population. For ciliates and prey, carbon production peaked at 20 °C and rapidly decreased above and below this maximum; differences between minimum and maximum were approximately fourfold, for both prey and ciliate, with low levels at 25–30 °C and 10–15 °C. Including literature data to parameterize, the influence of the grazer Daphnia did not alter the prediction that the ciliate may control short-term flagellate pulses and temperature will influence these in a nonintuitive fashion.