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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Choice of methodology and surrogate prey are decisive for the quality of protistan bacterivory rate estimates

Florenza, Javier; Bertilsson, Stefan


Microeukaryote predation on bacteria is a fundamental phenomenon to understand energy and nutrient dynamics at the base of the aquatic food web. To date, the most prevalent way to estimate grazing rates is by using epifluorescence microscopy to enumerate ingestion events of fluorescently labelled tracers (FLTs) after short-term incubation experiments. However, this approach can be sensitive to the type of FLT, requires skillful preparation of the samples and is limited to small sample sizes. We tested the susceptibility of rate estimates to the choice of prey and made a side-by-side comparison between microscopy and flow cytometry when recording ingestion by a bacterivorous flagellate. Short-term uptake experiments were established using 5 types of FLTs differing in quality (living, dead or inert) and size (large or small), with Ochromonas triangulata as a model flagellate. The experiments showed that (1) each of the different prey types yielded different clearing rates, ranging from 0.5 to 3.6 nl cell-1 h-1, with the largest differences (3-fold or higher) between small prey (lower rates) and large prey (higher rates); (2) the cytometry estimate differed significantly from the microscopy estimate in 3 out of 4 experimental configurations; and (3) the precision of the cytometric analysis was greater, with >3-fold higher uncertainty associated with microscopy counting. Our results validate that flow cytometry provides a more precise bacterivory estimate, and that the choice of FLT influences the grazing rate estimate to a high extent regardless of the analytical method used.


Bacterivory rates; Fluorescently labelled tracers; FLB; Flow cytometry; Ochromonas triangulata

Published in

Aquatic Microbial Ecology
2023, Volume: 89, pages: 43-53

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