Ecology Letters (2011)
Blooms of Prymnesium parvum can severely harm fish and zooplankton, presumably through the release of allelopathic exotoxins that offer advantages for Prymnesium in its interactions with competitors and prey. We show that Prymnesium attaches to zooplankton and fish, causing mortality, whereas exposure of these organisms to Prymnesium across a permeable membrane does not cause mortality. We also show that Prymnesium exotoxins are released independently of contact toxicity only in response to experimental procedures or natural causes of stress. Our results are consistent with the idea that toxins have evolved for release during cell-to-cell contact in support of heterotrophy. The evolution of toxin-assisted micropredation would be consistent with mechanisms of natural selection favouring individual fitness as opposed to broadcast allelopathy from which the benefits are more dispersed. Research into the toxicity of Prymnesium and other harmful algal species may profit from focus on processes following physical contact with potential prey.