Marine Biology

, Volume 158, Issue 7, pp 1551–1580 | Cite as

The role of ciliates, heterotrophic dinoflagellates and copepods in structuring spring plankton communities at Helgoland Roads, North Sea

  • Martin G. J. LöderEmail author
  • Cédric Meunier
  • Karen H. Wiltshire
  • Maarten Boersma
  • Nicole Aberle
Original Paper


Mesocosm experiments coupled with dilution grazing experiments were carried out during the phytoplankton spring bloom 2009. The interactions between phytoplankton, microzooplankton and copepods were investigated using natural plankton communities obtained from Helgoland Roads (54°11.3′N; 7°54.0′E), North Sea. In the absence of mesozooplankton grazers, the microzooplankton rapidly responded to different prey availabilities; this was most pronounced for ciliates such as strombidiids and strobilids. The occurrence of ciliates was strongly dependent on specific prey and abrupt losses in their relative importance with the disappearance of their prey were observed. Thecate and athecate dinoflagellates had a broader food spectrum and slower reaction times compared with ciliates. In general, high microzooplankton potential grazing impacts with an average consumption of 120% of the phytoplankton production (Pp) were measured. Thus, the decline in phytoplankton biomass could be mainly attributed to an intense grazing by microzooplankton. Copepods were less important phytoplankton grazers consuming on average only 47% of Pp. Microzooplankton in turn contributed a substantial part to the copepods’ diets especially with decreasing quality of phytoplankton food due to nutrient limitation over the course of the bloom. Copepod grazing rates exceeded microzooplankton growth, suggesting their strong top-down control potential on microzooplankton in the field. Selective grazing by microzooplankton was an important factor for stabilising a bloom of less-preferred diatom species in our mesocosms with specific species (Thalassiosira spp., Rhizosolenia spp. and Chaetoceros spp.) dominating the bloom. This study demonstrates the importance of microzooplankton grazers for structuring and controlling phytoplankton spring blooms in temperate waters and the important role of copepods as top-down regulators of microzooplankton.


Phytoplankton Dinoflagellate Spring Bloom Grazing Rate Grazing Impact 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study was part of a PhD thesis within the Food Web Project at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and we are grateful for the funding. Special thanks to Prof. Ulrich Sommer, Thomas Hansen and Sebastian Meyer at the IFM-GEOMAR (Kiel) for providing us the “Copacabana” light control programme and who helped us in words and deeds. Many thanks to the technical department of the BAH for all the perfect “short notice” solutions and to Arne Malzahn for his technical support. Special thanks also to the “Copepod Hunter” Katherina Schoo for catching and sorting out all the copepods for our experiments. Furthermore, thanks to the crews of the research vessels Uthörn and Aade, Kristine Carstens, Silvia Peters and the whole team of the AWI Food Web Project. Last but not least many thanks for the comments of three anonymous reviewers which helped us a lot for improving this manuscript.


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© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin G. J. Löder
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cédric Meunier
    • 1
  • Karen H. Wiltshire
    • 1
  • Maarten Boersma
    • 1
  • Nicole Aberle
    • 1
  1. 1.Biologische Anstalt HelgolandAlfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine ResearchHelgolandGermany

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