Viral Control of Phytoplankton Populations—a Review1



    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Oceanography, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, P.O. Box 59, NL-I790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands
      C. Brussaard—Telephone number: + 3 1-222-3695 13; FAX number: +3 1-222-319674; E-mail:
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    Symposium presentation for a joint meeting of the Society of Protozoologists and the Phycological Society of America, 14–19 June 2003, Gleneden Beach, Oregon.

C. Brussaard—Telephone number: + 3 1-222-3695 13; FAX number: +3 1-222-319674; E-mail:


ABSTRACT. Phytoplankton population dynamics are the result of imbalances between reproduction and losses. Losses include grazing, sinking, and natural mortality. As the importance of microbes in aquatic ecology has been recognized, so has the potential significance of viruses as mortality agents for phytoplankton. The field of algal virus ecology is steadily changing and advancing as new viruses are isolated and new methods are developed for quantifying the impact of viruses on phytoplankton dynamics and diversity. With this development, evidence is accumulating that viruses can control phytoplankton dynamics through reduction of host populations, or by preventing algal host populations from reaching high levels. The identification of highly specific host ranges of viruses is changing our understanding of population dynamics. Viral-mediated mortality may not only affect algal species succession, but may also affect intraspecies succession. Through cellular lysis, viruses indirectly affect the fluxes of energy, nutrients, and organic matter, especially during algal bloom events when biomass is high. Although the importance of viruses is presently recognized, it is apparent that many aspects of viral-mediated mortality of phytoplankton are still poorly understood. It is imperative that future research addresses the mechanisms that regulate virus infectivity, host resistance, genotype richness, abundance, and the fate of viruses over time and space.