Trophic complexity of zooplankton–cyanobacteria interactions in the Baltic Sea Insights from molecular diet analysis
Sammanfattning: Blooms of nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria (NFC) occur in many freshwater and marine systems, including the Baltic Sea. By fixing dissolved nitrogen, they circumvent general summer nitrogen limitation, while also generating a supply of novel bioavailable nitrogen for non-diazotrophic primary producers and ultimately supporting secondary production. Elucidating trophic links between primary consumers and NFC is essential for understanding role of these blooms for secondary production. However, until recently, there was no reliable method to quantify individual prey species for zooplankter feeding in situ. The development of PCR-based methods to detect prey-specific DNA in the diet of consumers, including microscopic animals, allows identification and quantification of trophic linkages in the field.Using molecular diet analysis in combination with egg production measurements, biochemical markers of growth and condition; and stable isotope approach, we explored a possibility to determine (1) whether cyanobacteria are grazed and assimilated by mesozooplankters (Papers I and II), (2) which species/groups are particularly efficient consumers of cyanobacteria (Papers II and III), and (3) how feeding on cyanobacteria affects zooplankton growth and development (Paper I and III). Taken together, these laboratory and field observations, provided evidence that NFC contribute to feeding and reproduction of zooplankton during summer and create a favorable growth environment for the copepod nauplii (Paper I). The favorable growth conditions for juvenile copepods observed during NFC blooms were hypothesized to be mediated by picoplankton that take up bioavailable nitrogen exuded from cyanobacterial cells. This hypothesis found support in Paper II that provided quantitative estimates for the direct picocyanobacteria → mesozooplankton pathway, with highest weight-specific consumption observed in nauplii. Further, using field observations on zooplankton and phytoplankton development during a growth season in the northern Baltic proper, we found that NFC nitrogen is assimilated and transferred to zooplankton via both direct grazing and indirectly through grazing on small-sized phyto- and bacterioplankton (Paper III). Finally, these and other findings emphasizing the importance of NFC for Baltic Sea secondary production during growth season were synthesized to show that diazotrophic nitrogen enters food webs already at bloom initiation (Paper III) and is transferred via multiple pathways to pelagic and benthic food webs and, ultimately, to fish (Paper IV).
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